Blount Press Row

What If …

Carter key as Tornadoes seek end to 50-year title drought

Alcoa senior Mekhi Carter reaches for a loose ball in a game against Maryville this season. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

It’s different when you’re a senior.

When you’re the only senior, it’s way different.

Make no mistake, Mekhi Carter is key if Alcoa’s Tornadoes are to end a 50-year longing for another state title.

Alcoa (22-10) opens against Livingston Academy (25-9) in the Class AA State Boys Basketball Tournament on Thursday at the Murphy Center at Middle Tennessee State University. A potential meeting with top-ranked Memphis Hamilton looms in the semifinals should the Tornadoes advance.

Other than Hamilton — which comes in a sick 33-2! — the field for the state tournament has seldom seen such balance. Whites Creek (21-12), Jackson South Side (21-8), Fulton (23-8) and Tyner (20-10) have all had their moments, good and bad. Stratford (24-6) is the team to watch no one seems to be talking about right now.

The team that plays its best basketball leaves Murfreesboro with the title on Saturday. For that team to be Alcoa, BPR humbly submits Carter’s the ticket.

Dante Harris is D1. The sophomore guard became the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career points earlier this season.

He could become the first player in school history to reach 2,000.

He’s that good.

Dante Harris eyes the rim in the closing minutes of a sectional win at Grainger last week.

It isn’t just Harris, though. Fellow sophomore Nick Roberts is that rare big man with the size to hold his own at the rim and the stroke to bury an opponent from 3. Mikael Ayl is an attacking guard in a point guard’s body, your basic fearless.

We really like this Nate Marsh kid. Dyvi Chandler, Jalen Carter, Isaiah Cox, Tristian Blankenship, all of them will give you minutes and points. Blankenship will ball on the blocks, and that’s just huge in big games.

“Usually, when we go in, we just try to provide a spark for the rest of the team,” Blankenship said.

All that withstanding, Carter’s still the matchup problem for most teams. He’s too tall for a guard, too quick for a forward and much too good a shooter to put a center out there on him. You don’t see it all that often, but he’s got a really good floor game. He’s unselfish, a team player and his J is money when he’s hot.

Plus, he’s a senior.

You don’t coach a senior; you unleash him.

You don’t have to tell him there’s no tomorrow. He knows there’s no tomorrow. He feels it, like nobody else can.

Carter hit a late-season lull recently, then roared to life with a 16-point effort in a sectional win at Grainger to send the Tornadoes on to state.

“I had to stay confident and keep shooting,” he said. “The only way out of a slump is keep shooting.”

Question: What if … with one senior … they played with one heart?

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