By Bill Sorrell
Substituting for his father, Brad Luckett got his first varsity coaching victory on Friday.
With Christian Brothers head basketball coach Bubba Luckett under the weather, which was not COVID-related, son Brad Luckett, CBHS assistant head coach, coached the Purple Wave to a 60-46 Division 2-AA West win over Briarcrest on the road.
“It feels good now that it’s over, a little stressful obviously. He’s great so I missed him out there but I have learned so much from him we were able to handle it. It’s the kids that win the game. We told them before the game the coaches do our job at practice and the scouting report but you guys are who win the game so it shouldn’t matter who’s over on the side,” said Brad Luckett.
Christian Brothers’ “Renaissance Man,” Reese McMullen sparked the victory. A senior who has committed to play next season at the University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League, McMullen scored a game-high 16 points as CBHS improved to 18-0, 4-0 in league play.
The Purple Wave is ranked No. 1 in the state among Division 2-AA schools by the Associated Press and No. 1 overall by Max Preps, which also ranks them No. 19 nationally.
To be undefeated at this point is “nice but our goal is to win the last game of the season. We are not satisfied. We are still hungry and we are going to keep seeking that out,” said Luckett.
Senior point guard Eli Federman is in the same boat.
“The biggest goal I have and I think everyone on the team has, ever since I came in freshman year we have all wanted to win a state championship and that is not going to change anytime soon. I want a ring really, really bad. I am going to fight until I get one,” said Federman, who scored 14 points.
McMullen, an all-state-type player, a potential Class of 2021 valedictorian and adroit at playing the piano and tagged “a Renaissance man” by Luckett, has a “super basketball IQ”.
That has helped him make his own adjustments on the floor.
“He does a great job. He’ll come to me during time outs and say, ‘Coach we need to look at this.’ It’s hard to ever argue with him. He has a good feel for the game,” said Luckett. “He’s a super kid, very organized, very determined. He’s got a lot of motivation. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him to work hard at anything. He just does it. Integrity. He is the home-run type kid to have at your school.”
At McMullen’s next school, Penn, Luckett expects him to be a combination of a shooting guard and point guard.
“I think they’ll mix it up a little bit. He can bring it up the floor when he needs to. He can push in transition. He has got the composure to handle it but he is also so good coming off screens and knocking down shots and spacing the floor,” said Luckett.
“The great thing about Reese he is so good on both sides of the ball. He always has the assignment of the other team’s best player. He does a fantastic job and then he is still able to get us 16, 18, 20 points a game on top of guarding the other team’s bets player the entire game. He normally rests one or two minutes throughout the game. He has great stamina. He cares about defending which is rare for good players. He sill has the energy and composure to help us on offense too. It shows why he is going to be an Ivy League player. He is great on both sides. He was solid throughout the game.”
So was Federman. Knocking down some “huge shots,” Federman stole the ball and went almost the length of the court to score his first points with 5:26 left in the third quarter to put CBHS on top 27-22. His 3-pointer with 7:29 left to play made it a 7-point lead 41-34 and another 3-pointer gave the Purple Wave a 50-40 lead with 3:40 to play.
The 20-8 run cemented a CBHS advantage after a trey by Briarcrest’s Wes Davis had given the Saints their only lead of the game, 32-30, with 1:59 left in the third quarter.
Federman scored seven points in the last three minutes including a layup after a Brothers steal and two free throws that provided CBHS its final two points.
“It was really slow for me first quarter. Halfway through with four minutes left I got back-to-back fouls then I got pulled out because of foul trouble which made it really tough for me because I want to be on the court with my brothers. Then I got it together and in the third and fourth I got 14. I was trying to play defense and make my contribution by rebounding and making assists.”
Federman is the Purple Wave’s leading rebounder averaging six per game.
“He pursues the ball relentlessly. He is a great, great rebounder,” said Luckett. “Eli had a huge night. I’m really proud of the way Reese played on both ends. Zion Owens’ defense was fantastic. Hunter (Pratt) had a solid game. Even though Chandler (Jackson) didn’t play his best he still drew a lot of defense and came up with some big plays when we needed them. He got the attention of the defense which helped us get open looks.” Jackson scored 6 points. He and McMullen both average about 16 points a game.
What has helped to carry the Purple Wave to its undefeated season is its man-to-man full court aggressive defense.
“Our defense is good this year. We are really happy with out defense. Our defense wins games for us. We are also smart. Nobody gets anything easy. Obviously we have some good offensive players,” said Luckett. “We are a free-motion (offense). We have such good players we let them play basketball.”
Another reason has been senior leadership.
“These guys have been playing since they were freshmen or sophomores. They are really good friends. They love each other. We have great senior leadership. That is why we are special this year,” said Luckett.
Along with McMullen and Federman, guards Harrison Kelly, Ben Floyd, Colin Scifres, Sam Lakey, Alex McCarley, Collin Beatty are seniors. Forward Nick Stokes is also a senior.
Along with McMullen, Luckett expects Kelly and Federman to play in college and juniors Jackson and Pratt to play in college after they graduate.
“We have a lot more players than we let on,” said Federman. “People only know about Reese and Chandler but we are really deep. Starters me, Hunter Pratt, Reese, Chandler and Harrison Kelly. Then coming off the bench, sixth man Colin Scifres and Zion Owens. They make contributions every single game. Zion got us started offensively in the first half when no one else could score. Colin went in and immediately hit a little jump shot then also we have Ben Floyd and Sam Lakey coming off the bench. So we have nine guys who get good minutes. That is what makes us hard to guard. Because we go full court pretty much the whole game because we’re really quick and really aggressive. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have as deep a team.”
Briarcrest has a young team with two freshmen, Cooper Haynes and Jaye Nash, and a sophomore, Max Carroll, starting. Carroll leads the team in rebounds averaging six per game.
The Saints lost seven players from last year’s squad with four of them playing Division 1 football, Omari Thomas, Jabari Small at Tennessee, Reggie Neeley (Tulane), Rodney Newsome (Memphis). Marcellus Brigham is playing basketball at Jacksonville State, Scooter Malone is playing basketball at Dodge City Community College.
The Saints (15-6, 2-3 in division) also lost Kennedy Chandler, who Briarcrest head basketball coach John Harrington said is the No. 1 point guard in the nation. Channdler, a senior transferred to Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, a suburb of Wichita. He was a two-time Mr. Basketball winner while at Briarcrest.
Chandler’s shot in a game on Feb. 5 was the No. 1 play on ESPN’s Sports Center’s Top 10 plays of the day.
Harrington was pleased with the Saints’ effort. He ranked it a 10 on a 1-10 scale.
“We didn’t back down. We fought, we fought, we fought. I don’t think we were very good offensively. I thought offensively we showed our inexperience sometimes. I think our offense probably gave up some points by turning the ball over, shooting a bad shot. Our offense pretty much hurt our defense,” said Harrington.
Senior point guard Michael Dallas said the team’s effort was good. “We really got after it. No matter how good the team is we are always going to get after it.”
Harrington gave his team defense, which he called “really good” a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
“They score about 75 points a game and they had 25 at halftime. They are a very good defensive team. Eli Federman and Reese McMullen are two of the better defensive players, if not the best, in the league. I think they had a lot to do with our ineffectiveness on offense.
“For you to beat a Christian Brothers team you have to play as a team. Defensively we did a few, little wrinkles and it took a whole team effort to keep them down as long as we kept them down. We bit at their ankles three quarters then they pulled away from us. They are clearly the more experienced team than us.”
Davis said, “The team fought hard on defense we just didn’t get offense going. We played tremendous on defense and played good together.
The team has bonded so much in the locker room. It makes being on the court easy to play with each other. It’s a young team. We have learned to listen to Coach and do what he says.”
Harrington is in his 19th season at Briarcrest and 37th overall. He was an assistant coach at Bartlett for 18 years.
This is the final year he will be coaching his son Tyler Harrington, a senior.
“It’s hard to coach your son because No. 1 you are a dad first. When you are a dad you’re watching him play Little League baseball or Little League football. As a dad we want to correct them, they did this right, they did this wrong. So I am in practice as a coach. I’m coaching 15 other kids but I’m also sometimes a dad out there getting on to him
“He’s had a great year. I’ve been really surprised how good of a year he’s had. When I get on him in a game, I am not getting on to him because I am the coach but I’m the dad. That is the dad coming out in me.”
Tyler Harrington has committed to play baseball at the University of Memphis. Another baseball commit is Dallas who has committed to play at the University of Kentucky.
The Saints have two other seniors on the basketball team John Scruggs and Griffin Reilly. Haynes is second in Shelby-Metro in scoring with a 20.5 scoring average.
“Our best player started playing well, Cooper Haynes. Jaye Ash played well. They did a good job,” said Dallas.
Christian Brothers took a 5-0 lead when Kelly hit a trey. Tyler Harrington got the Saints’ first points on two free throws with 4:58 left in the first quarter. McMullen pushed it to an 8-3 lead. Jackson made it a seven-point lead, 12-5. In the second quarter, Harrington hit four straight free throws, Dallas hit a basket and Haynes hit two free throws to pull Briarcrest to within 16-15. CBHS scored seven straight behind baskets by Floyd, Pratt and McMullen’s trey. Scruggs’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 23-20 before Jackson scored to give CBHS a 25-20 halftime lead.
“It was really a tough first two and a half quarters for us. We weren’t being patient on offense and on defense we were not necessarily following the scouting report well enough. We started getting it together (in the second half). We definitely wanted to create a little bit of separation between us and them. We don’t like being in close games obviously. We want to stretch the lead as much as we can,” said Federman.
In the third quarter Briarcrest tied the game on Haynes’ 3-pointer with 4:34 left. Kelly countered with a trey and it was 30-27. Briarcrest then took the lead on a basket by Carroll and Davis’ trey. After Owens tied it at 32, a 3-pointer by McMullen put the Purple Wave ahead to stay with 1:13 left in the third. Briarcrest got within one, 35-34, on free throws by Carroll.
Harrington’s 3-pointer followed Federman’s trey in the fourth quarter to slice the CBHS lead to 41-37. McMullen and Owens increased the lead to 45-40 before Haynes scored a three-pointer.
Federman scored a layup after a CBHS steal to put the Brothers ahead 54-42 with 2:19 to play. Haynes scored and the Saints trailed 54-44 before Pratt hit two free throws and a goal and Federman hit two free throws.
Carroll scored at the buzzer for the Saints.
“Every time we tied it up I think we got excited and started high-fiveing each other,” said Harrington. “They went down and scored in a hurry. The lead did last very long. A few of those baskets at the end we were in catch-up mode. We are trying to trap full-court press. We were giving up a lot of stuff at the end. I don’t think the 14-point deficit was quite what it was. We had an intentional foul which we weren’t trying to foul intentionally the kid. That has the way it has been this year.”
Pratt finished with 8 points, Jackson 6, Kelly 6, Floyd 2, Scifres 2 for CBHS, which hit 7 of 7 free throws. Federman got two 3-pointers, Kelly two, McMullen three.
For the Saints Harrington led scorers with 13 points, Haynes scored 12, Carroll 10, Nash 3, Davis 3, Scruggs 3, Dallas 2. They sank 11 of 17 free throws. Harrington made one 3 pointer, Haynes two, Scruggs and Davis one each.
What fueled the Purple Wave run that brought separation when the game was tied at 32 was, “we finally stopped gambling defensively,” said Luckett, which he termed the turning point. “After we stopped gambling, we knocked down some big shots after being patient. We were able to use a little more clock and we ended those possessions hitting big shots.
“We played solid offensively. We were a little more patient but most importantly we knocked down some shots. Eli Federman knocked two huge shots. Reese McMullen was solid. Hunter Pratt was big at catching and finishing. We executed better in the second half.”
Federman said, “We were letting the shooters shoot. It was more about focusing and listening to Coach. Obviously Coach Brad knows what is best for us. He watches every single game they (the Saints) have had all year. He knows what works. He knows what we do best. He’s been watching us four years so you have to trust Coach and listen to what he says.”
Federman is impressed with the way Jackson and McMullen play defense along with their offensive production.
“You get those who are like prima donnas and they don’t really want to play defense but the difference between them is they want to get out there on defense because they know that is what sparks our team and makes us win,” said Federman.
Each player benefits from the team effort said Luckett.
“Chandler gets some of the great stuff he gets because you’ve got Reese and Harrison Kelly out there ready to knock down shots. Of course Eli was great tonight. It’s tremendous. Chandler probably benefits the most from it.”
The Saints have been one of the most fun teams Harrington has coached he said. “Offensively we are trying to do what a lot of the NBA teams are doing with no post guy, a lot of pick and pop stuff. It’s been a work in progress and the kids like each other. We have some high-character kids. That’s what has made it fun this year.”
Harrington was proud of his team.
After a 56-53 loss to Memphis University School on Feb. 2, players were at school at 7 a.m. Feb. 3 for homecoming court practice. Players escort girls in the court. The practice lasted 20 minutes.
“After a loss and getting up and doing something for other students I couldn’t be more proud of a bunch of boys. They really made me feel good that they have that much of a servant attitude,” said Harrington.
Luckett has been proud of his team as they have faced deficits and come back.
“We have learned that it doesn’t matter what kind of deficit we face, what kind of adversity we have, we are not gong to quit playing. We did that Friday night (Jan. 29). We were down with two minutes to play and came back and won. Tonight we were down in the second half and came back and won significantly. I’m proud of our composure our guys have even we are down,” said Luckett.
For Federman it’s been fun in the locker room after wins.
“We turn on 2010 pop music and everyone is dancing around celebrating the win and all kinds of crazy stuff,” he said.
In the second half, Federman and Dallas, an all-state quarterback, were both playing with so much intensity they had a collision. Federman hit the floor and Dallas gave him hand to get back up. Both dusted it off and carried on their gritty play.
“I can’t stand to lose,” said Federman. “If I am on the court and the team didn’t pull out the win I would be very, very upset. I figured even if you hurt a little bit you can go ice it after the game and you’ll be fine.”
Harrington said, “Any time that us and Christian Brothers play each other it doesn’t matter if one team is undefeated and the other team is undefeated it is always going to be a dog fight.”
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By Bill Sorrell