With 29 seconds left, Jarod Rhodes stood at the free-throw line with a chance to give his team the lead. Nerves crept in while he tried to shut out his surroundings—a noisy gym and a court filled with some of the best players in the Chattanooga area, assembled for the annual Stump on Sports Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Classic on Tuesday night.
“It felt like a Kodak moment to me,” Rhodes said. “I was just taking my time, me and the goal.”
He sunk the first to give Tennessee a 99-98 edge, then moments later, took a pass from C.J. Reese and laid in the final bucket for a 101-98 win for Tennessee.
For the first 31 minutes in the game played at Notre Dame, focus fluttered as players attempted to shift on the fly from opponents to teammates. The all-star teams were brought together to display the area’s best talent one last time, before most move on to the college court.
“That is what you get with these,” Tennessee coach Jesse Nayadley said. “It’s fun for them, that’s all it is.”
Just before the game, Grace Academy’s Corey Nelson finished a pass off the side of the backboard from Ooltewah’s Jervon Johnson to win the dunk contest. The judges left the stage after Nelson was handed a trophy, but the competition lingered into pregame layup lines.
The showmanship lasted well after the opening whistle. Nelson began the game with another dunk, and with the game still in limbo and just six minutes remaining, the Georgia team was throwing alley-oops off the backboard.
But for the final minute, and a few instances before, the desire to win overcame the urge to show off. In the end, the Tennessee squad did a few of the little things better to overcome a late deficit and take their third straight victory in the series.
“When I saw the opposing team going hard, I just tried to keep my composure and do the same thing so we could get the win,” said Reese, a recent McCallie grad.
Rhodes, from Cleveland, finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. He scored seven in the game’s final two minutes and was given the game’s MVP award. McCallie’s Reese was the catalyst from the point guard position down the stretch and finished with 10 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals. He earned Tennessee’s player of the game award.
“I told them, you can either come out here to win this thing or you can come out here and try to show off and not play good basketball,” Nayadley said. “Whoever’s going to go offensive rebound and stay in front of the basketball in these types of games is going to win. We did that in spurts. We’d get up 10 or 12, then just shut it down, and I think we got down 10.
“I had the two teams separated and the last six minutes, I just put the five in that I thought had played the best.”
Tuesday’s victory may help some to erase Reese’s memory of his final postgame in the McCallie locker room. The Southeast Missouri State signee was suspended for the Blue Tornado’s first playoff game in 2012. He never got a chance for redemption. McCallie’s state title hopes were dashed with a loss at home to Baylor.
In the all-star game, the stakes were lowered and the intensity lessened, but the chip was evident. He was relentless over the closing minutes—driving past defenders, leading fast breaks.
“I hate losing with a passion,” Reese said. “The last minute, when you look at the clock and see you’re on the losing side, it’s time to step up. I just tried to keep my composure, penetrate, kick when it was open, and take whatever I had.”
Alongside Reese and Rhodes, McMinn County’s Cedrick Nevins scored 18, Bradley Central’s Hunter Chastain scored 16 and Johnson had 12. Johnson and Chastain each hit four 3-pointers, and after the game, delivered a return to the loose atmosphere of an all-star event by going head-to-head in a 3-point shootout. Chastain won, making it a Bradley County sweep of the Tennessee awards.
In all, seven of the 10 Tennessee players were from District 5-AAA, and the group accounted for 72 points.
“I knew they were good,” Nayadley said. “It was fun to have them all out there together and play one time.”
Nayadley was given the label of coach, but he did little more than assemble the squad and shuffle players in and out. When he called timeout just before Rhodes’s final free-throw attempts, it was the first time he’d said a word to most of the players since halftime. The group practiced only once leading up to the event, and even then only seven players showed up.
“You just want them to come out here and compete and not show off too much,” Nayadley said with a laugh.
Cohesion came at just the right time.