University of Tennessee sophomore guard Trae Golden goes in for a dunk during the Pilot Rocky Top League Championship in which his team, Choice Spine, beat the Knoxville News-Sentinel 128-105.
Former UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl was in attendance, and signed autographs and took pictures with fans.
Choice Spine finished undefeated in the league with a 6-0 record. (Photos by J.J. Kindred)
By J.J. KINDRED
If Trae Golden is trying to make a name for himself with new Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and the rest of the team, he is off to a great start.
Golden and his UT roommate and teammate, Jordan McRae, led Choice Spine to a 128-105 victory over the Knoxville News-Sentinel to win the Pilot Rocky Top League championship June 29 at Bearden High School.
Golden scored 21 points and had eight assists, but McRae did a little better with 36 points.
The victory sealed an undefeated record of 6-0 for the team.
“It feels great to win. I am really proud of my team,” said Golden, who will be a sophomore this fall. “I enjoy being in the point guard role and making sure everyone is happy. I’ve been working on my ball handling and my shooting.”
Golden, a combination guard from Powder Springs, Ga., who at one time had committed to Ohio State, said he has been talking to Martin on almost a daily basis.
“His expectations for me are pretty high,” Golden said. “He told me he thinks that I can be an elite guard in the country, and that’s what I’m shooting for and working hard every day for.
“I’m not even worried about (starting this year),” Golden continued. “I’m just going to go in and work hard every day, and hopefully I’ll earn my spot. This summer, I will continue to work out, do drills and make sure that I work hard enough to make sure everything will be fine.”
UT junior Jeronne Maymon scored 30 points for Choice Spine, while former UT star Wayne Chism scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a losing effort with the News-Sentinel.
Chism already has two Rocky Top championships under his belt, but failed to get a third. Now, after a stint in Europe last season, he hopes to be either playing there or somewhere else next season.
“This has helped me stay in shape, stay consistent and keep running up and down the court,” Chism said after the game. “I am trying to go back to Europe or maybe play in the D-League (NBA’s developmental league), but that’s up to my agent to find something for me.”
Chism said it was great to play with some of his old UT teammates, and shared fond memories of his playing days.
“Beating Kentucky when they were No. 1, going to the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16, I’ve accomplished a lot and got a degree, so it’s been great,” Chism said.
Former UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl was also in attendance to see his son and his former player, Steven, play for the winning team.
Steven Pearl entertained the crowd during the last minute of the game by missing a dunk at first, but then made up for it with a successful one.
“It’s my second Rocky Top championship, and it’s good to win this one,” said Pearl, who has been working for two months as a sales representative for Stryker, a medical supply company.
He said that his fondest memories were playing for his father, beating Ohio State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, beating Kansas when they were No. 1 in the country, and winning an SEC championship.
“I will always remember all the wonderful friends that I’ve had here. It’s always good to come back and play with these guys,” Pearl said.
Former Carson-Newman star Andy Tipton, who played professionally in Australia last year, scored 29 for Choice Spine, and former UT player Jon Higgins added 15.
Grainger County’s Skylar McBee, who will be a junior this fall at UT, finished with 21 points for the News Sentinel.
Rocky Top League commissioner Andre Whitehead, who also works as a recruiter with Tennessee Prep Hoops, said it was one of the best seasons the league has experienced in his tenure.
“I thought the season went fantastic,” Whitehead told The Knoxville Journal after the game. “It’s some of the best talent we’ve had in five years from top to bottom. Everyone showed up on every given night. The attendance was better than I thought it would be with the transition of coaches. I thought it went great.”