Dennis King can hardly believe what he has seen this year.
At the end of last season, the veteran Brentwood High boys basketball coach said that Jack Montague was the best point guard he had ever coached and wondered if he might ever be able to have someone again who was that good.
When Montague graduated last spring, King simply hoped someone could come in and come close to filling those big shoes.
Lo and behold, it happened. In sophomore James McPherson, the high-flying Bruins (17-2) have an exceptional replacement for Montague, who is a freshman at Yale. McPherson played like a senior last Friday, when he helped rescue the Bruins from the brink of defeat in a 48-44 overtime victory at Hillsboro.
“When I see James out there, I see a lot of Jack,” King said. “He is this skinny, scrawny little guy who I thought would be pushed around, but he’s more than held his own.
“I told him when we got over here that [Hillsboro’s gym] would be loud and that he would have to deal with that. He was already telling me about noises and acoustics that he heard earlier and how he would handle that. His basketball IQ is off the charts.”
So is his ability to make plays late in games.
In an air-tight contest, Brentwood trailed 40-38 after Hillsboro’s Micah Phillips made driving hoop with nine seconds left.
With time running out, McPherson dribbled at the head of the circle, then suddenly drove down the left side and flipped in the game-tying shot as the buzzer sounded.
“Coming out of the time out, we had hoped to set up Asa [Duvall] in the corner for a three, but that broke down,’ the 6-foot McPherson said. “I knew I had to get a shot up in a hurry, and fortunately it went down.”
McPherson already has heard the comparisons between Montague and himself.
“Jack and I are actually very close, and he’s given me lots of tips on the system and how to make myself better,” McPherson said.
Added King: “Jack kind of took James under his wing and gave him a lot of tips, just advice and things he needed to work on.”
McPherson wasn’t through with the end of regulation.
After Andy Schumpert knocked down a big 3-point shot early in the overtime, McPherson took over. He knocked down five of six free throws in the last 43 seconds as the Bruins outscored Hillsboro 8-4 in the overtime.
The best thing for King? McPherson is just a sophomore.
“I just need to step up there, make the free throws, do whatever I could to help my team win,” McPherson, who scored 13 points, said.
Jacob Adcock led Brentwood with 14 and Schumpert added 10.
“I got a good open look, and I was able to hit [the 3-pointer] and that got us the lead,” Schumpert said. “Then James knocked down those big free throws. It’s huge winning [at Hillsboro], a very difficult place to play.”
The victory was the second in overtime last week for Brentwood, which has taken the early lead in District 11-AAA. The Bruins also went beyond regulation to beat Independence last Tuesday.
As a side note, fans got their money’s worth at Hillsboro on Friday because the girls game also went into overtime. Brentwood rallied from an 11-point final quarter deficit to tie it 50-50 before the Burros, led by 17 points from Nicole Bowers, escaped with a 61-56 victory.
With a month to go in the regular season, Brentwood, Hillsboro and Independence boys teams look as if they will battle for the district title. The Burros are set up well for the postseason because they host both the district and Region 6-AAA tourneys in February.
Brentwood has managed its fast start without two starters. Will Jones is out for the season with an ankle injury, which required surgery, and senior forward Cody Shelton for about four more weeks with a knee injury.
“Cody just had the knee scoped, we’ll be fortunate if we get him back for the tournaments,” King said.
• Hancock-Nipper awards: The annual A.D. Hancock-Walter Nipper Sportsmanship Awards will be handed out at a luncheon, 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Swett’s Restaurant on Clifton Avenue. The recipients are from region or state champion football teams in Nashville and are players who have shown outstanding sportsmanship through the season.
High school recipients are: Raymond Caruthers (Cane Ridge), Michael Paszek (Nashville Christian School) and Shomari White (Ensworth).
• G.P. West Invitational Wrestling: With 267 points, Memphis Christian Brothers won the annual G.P. West Invitational wrestling tournament Saturday at Brentwood High. The best finish by a Nashville-area team was Ravenwood High, which was fifth.
Ravenwood senior Jacob Freeman was the lone Nashville wrestler to win a championship when he scored an 8-0 win over Christian Brothers’ Luke Parish in the 145 final.
• Hunters Lane coach: Scott Murray, who had been football coach at Whites Creek High and Glencliff for the past for five seasons, has been named new head coach at Hunters Lane.
He replaces William Darnell whose teams were 0-20 the past two seasons. The Warriors have lost 26 straight and haven’t made the post season since 2009, the last season under coach Richard Campbell.
Whites Creek was 1-9 last season following a 4-6 mark in 2011.
• Ravenwood’s Robble ends softball career: Ravenwood senior Brooke Robble, whose junior softball season ended with an ACL injury last May, said she has decided to forego her senior season with the Raptors.
“That will be it for me,” Robble, who was the District 11-AAA MVP last year, said.
She will enter the University of Memphis, said she would major in nursing and “will go where God leads me.”
• Lipscomb’s Ball honored: Lipscomb Academy’s Barbara Lee Ball has been named Gatorade girls prep runner of the year in Tennessee. She has won the TSSAA Class A/AA cross country championship three times.
• Ensworth pool: Ensworth High School opened a multi-purpose natatorium last week. The facility includes a 50-meter pool, four springboards for diving and two video scoreboards.