State tourney foe a tall order for Maplewood defense

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 10:09pm
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Carter High's Lester Wilson

Ty Wilson didn’t have to look too far down the scouting report chart to see what his team needs to concentrate its defense on. All the Maplewood coach had to do was notice the name and stat line of Lester Wilson, the star 6-4 post player for Carter High, the team the Panthers meet in their AA quarterfinal matchup Thursday in the boys state tournament.

Wilson, an AA Mr. Basketball finalist, is one of the state’s leading scorers with a 27.4 per game average, along with 13.2 rebounds per game. He’s shooting an amazing 64 percent from the field as well as 38.5 percent from three-point land for the eaststate’s Carter (23-10).

“He’s a very athletic kid who has put up some monster numbers,’’ Wilson said. “It presents a big challenge for us to prepare for him.’’

A possible post matchup might send 6- 4 Robert Wade, the Panthers’ leading scorer, into guarding Wilson, although Maplewood may play some zone as well.

Senior guard Fred Lee is one of the Panther mainstays, to go with junior Jeleel Queary, along with the emergence of talented freshmen like Kenny Robertson and Jason Stone.

Wilson insists that he doesn’t see any opening game jitters or stage fright for Maplewood, which is making its first state trip since 2002 when these seniors were in the fourth grade.

“With all we’ve been through this year, I don’t expect we’ll have much of that,’’ said the Panthers’ coach, whose team opens the Thursday session with a 10 a.m. tip at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.

“We’ve had a lot of situations, adversity and ups and downs, we’ve had to deal with. I think our guys have a great deal of mental toughness, and I think we’ll be OK,’’ he said.

Maplewood (24-7) has played regular season home games at Dalewood Middle School (while its new gym was under construction), its tournament games at East Literature (district and region), then a sectional game at Whites Creek High. So playing at spacious MTSU will be just one more neutral court that shouldn’t bother the Panthers.

Carter is the only team in the AA field making its first state tournament appearance. The Hornets also have the most losses (10) of any team in the tourney. But after losing in the region final, Carter went on the road and beat Sullivan East to qualify.

A win sends Maplewood into Friday’s lower bracket semis. Defending state champ Knox Fulton, along with Bolivar, the No. 1-2 ranked AP teams, are both in the upper bracket.

Although it has never won the championship, Maplewood has some tournament history. Maplewood has made eight state tourney appearances, none since back-to-back showings in 2001 and ’02 under the late Winston Gamble.

In the 1980 AAA quarters, Maplewood, coached by Gerald Johnson, lost to Austin East 107-94. It set a record for the most combined points in a state tournament game (201), something which stayed on the books for 23 years until broken in ’03.

The year 2001 marked the last year Maplewood reached the semis. In the ’02 quarters, Bearden hit a controversial last-second shot for a 59-58 win. Afterwards, Gamble hotly protested the counting of the shot which came extremely close to the final buzzer.

Asked if he had met ever Gamble, Wilson said, “when I was an assistant at M.L. King with Coach Doc Shelton and he was at Maplewood, we both reached the state tournament in ’02 and we scrimmaged each other at TSU,’’ he said. “I briefly met him, and I know he was a good coach.’’

On Thursday, Maplewood will be trying for a little more history.