Rumble on the Ridge

Nov 29
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Past, present and future of Razorbacks seen over the weekend in Forrest City.

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It’s been a tough couple weeks for Hog fans.

First, news breaks that their basketball team’s best player, Marshawn Powell, tore knee ligaments during practice and will miss the rest of the season.

Then, of course, the 41-17 shellacking at the hands of LSU’s football team last Friday.

It’s possible some fans looking for a little solace moseyed over to Forrest City, where the David J. Cohn Rumble on the Ridge, one of the nation’s top 8-team high school basketball tournaments, was held over Thanksgiving weekend.

There, in Forrest City High School’s gym, downcast fans could have glimpsed visions of Razorbacks glory in its past and future forms. Near the entrance is a plaque dedicated to Forrest City Mustangs who went on to play for the ’64 Razorbacks, the only national championship team in Arkansas’ football history: Jim Lindsey, Jim Finch, Richard Trail and Jim Williams. On the court below, they could have seen 6-foot-8 junior Bobby Portis, a Razorback commit, man the middle for his Little Rock Hall squad. Or see how a few highly touted Razorback recruits stacked up against other elite talent.

One of the most interesting prospects was sophomore Trey Thompson, a native of Madison, a Forrest City satellite town which also produced former Razorback guard Marcus Britt. Indeed, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Thompson grew up playing ball at the city park with Britt, said his father Felix Thompson. Nowadays, ESPN ranks Thompson as the nation’s 25th best player in his class, and he backed up that ranking by averaging 12.3 points, eight rebounds and 4.7 blocks in three games.

Before the Mustangs’ last game, for fifth-place against Scotlandville, La., the tournament’s organizer Bill Baxter announced the tourney’s sponsor, David Cohn, had died from terminal illness. I was told later Cohn, a local benefactor, had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease for at least two years. Everybody spoke well of Cohn, and a moment of silence was observed after the announcement. “I just wanted to go out and play for him and do a good job,” Thompson said afterward. Thompson played well, but Forrest City fell 69-63.

Although Forrest City participates each year, it has not won the tourney in its 15-year history. Casey Baxter, who helps his father run the event, said about 130 Division I signees from states around the Mid South have played in Rumble on the Ridge. When it comes to rocking the competition, though, Arkansas teams need to step up. Despite having more teams participate than any other state, Arkansas has only had a tourney-winning team three times (2002, Little Rock Parkview; 2003, Pulaski Academy; 2009, Conway).

Little Rock Hall, a state champion, has struggled early after losing two of its top players from last season to graduation. The Warriors lost their first two Rumble games, but finished strong with a 67-39 win against New Albany, Miss. Portis averaged 19.3 points and six rebounds.

Sylvan Hills, central Arkansas’ other representative, lost 60-89 to Southwind (Memphis) in the final. Southwind is loaded with elite D1 recruits, and swarms opponents with a “94 Feet of Heat” style inspired by Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell.” It should be ranked as one of the nation’s Top 15 teams after this tourney, in which it beat a Louisiana team ranked 12th in the nation and a veteran Sylvan Hills Bears team favored to win the 5A this season. Bear Archie Goodwin, a former Sync diarist, finished with 22 points but the Kentucky signee struggled with his shot after twisting his ankle in the first half. Afterward, I spoke with Southwind junior Johnathan Williams III, a 6-foot-9 guard with a smooth game second to none. I asked him to name all the major colleges which had offered him scholarships and after about 30 seconds of him reeling them off I finally had to stop the verbal torrent. “J3” added Arkansas was among them, though, and said he had enjoyed his trip to Fayetteville a few weeks ago.

Arkansas teams can exact a small measure of revenge on their Memphis rivals this Saturday afternoon and evening at Hall’s gym. Jacksonville, Parkview and Hall will play in the inaugural Battle of the Border tournament, which pairs four top Arkansas teams (including Parkview girls) against four top Memphis programs. This tournament should be more competitive as Southwind, fortunately, isn’t participating.

For video highlights of Rumble on the Ridge, visit thesportsseer.com

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