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Big Jim

Alcoa great Riddick celebrates 85th on top of the world

Blount Press Row goes over the first half stats with one of the first Alcoa greats, 1959 state tournament most valuable player Jim Riddick.

Murfreesboro — Blount Press Row rode down to the state basketball tournament on Saturday with Bud and Tracey Cooper. It worked last year when Alcoa stunned Frederick Douglass High School of Memphis when Jahvin Carter hit that layup with three seconds to play, so we stuck with it.

We pull into a rest area just outside Lebanon for a pit stop. As we exit the Millennium Falcon, Bud’s king cab pickup, we notice a couple flying “The City” colors exiting the visitor’s center across the lawn.

Wait a sec … is that …

We instantly start to feel better about what the Tornadoes are about to get into down here, at least I do.

Douglass is super tough. The Red Devils are 35-0, and you know they’re still mad about what happened last year. No sweat.

If Alcoa coach Ryan Collins has convinced “Big Jim” Riddick to come down and dress out, this thing’s in the bag.

Tornado senior Jahvin Carter, most valuable player of the 2024 state tournament, shares a moment with the 1959 MVP and Riddick’s wife, Edna, following the championship game.

Alas, the big guy and his lovely wife, Edna, are only coming down to cheer on the Tornadoes — and to celebrate Jim’s 85th birthday.

Still good.

God loves Him some Jim Riddick, and so do we. If he’s along for the ride, Douglass is in trouble.

When it comes to Alcoa basketball, Riddick is considered royalty. The program is pretty much founded on the exploits of four legends: Herman Thompson, the former Tornado and Tennessee Vol for whom the school’s gymnasium is named; David Marsh, the school’s lone high school All-American and whose name logos the floor inside Thompson gymnasium; Vernon Osborne, the beloved and revered head coach who put it all together way back; and Riddick, THE guy, who delivered the school’s first state crown.

Edna was an Alcoa cheerleader when the 1959 Tornadoes hopped on a bus for Nashville and a date with destiny.

(Editor: High school basketball star, and your girlfriend is the prettiest girl in school … and a cheerleader? That’s legend stuff right there.)

Osborne set the tone for the school’s first title run when he spied Riddick at halfcourt, arms folded, gawking at the night’s opponent going through a dunk line at the other end prior to the quarterfinal.

“He said, ‘You go over there and sit down; you’re not ready to play,'” Riddick remembers fondly now.

It worked.

Riddick delivered the performance of a lifetime over the next three days, averaging a double-double for the tournament for the 37-4 Tornadoes in being named most valuable player.

A student at Alcoa in the late 1970s and already a basketball junkie, we still remember the trophy case that once stood outside the main office. It had a picture of the ’59 team inside, along with the netting from the 70-58 win over Meigs County.

After identifying which one was Riddick in the photograph, we immediately began to wonder: Who was this guy?

It would take a while — eight years in the Navy, followed by five years at Tennessee — but we’d one day find out when we secured our first job as a journalist and Riddick resurfaced as the head boys basketball coach at the county’s new high school, William Blount.

Awesome! Not only had we come face to face with a legend come to life, he was a good guy. The coach/reporter relationship blossomed over the years. We still call him, “Coach.” At halftime Saturday, after securing the first half stats, we marched right up to where he was sitting inside Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center to go over the numbers.

The 2024 Tornadoes were really putting it to Douglass. The lead was 13 and would balloon to as big as 21 at one point in the third.

“Look at those Douglass turnovers,” we said. “They’ve been pressing fullcourt for most of the first two quarters, and they’re the ones coughing it up at an alarming rate?

“This thing’s over!”

He just laughed, like he’s always done when we said something like that.

“They’re going to come after us,” he cautioned.

Of course, he was right.

Early in the fourth, Carter went down with a cramp in his left calf. Douglass surged. Riddick never blinked.

The guy who started it all regards Carter as “the top all-around player for Alcoa in the last 50 years. He’s a true leader with team respect and support.”

Facing double teams for much of his high school career, Carter still became the first boys player in Blount County history to reach 3,000 points, he pointed out. Mere days before the state tournament opened, Carter became Alcoa’s first Mr. Basketball winner in the program’s long and storied history.

Returning after receiving treatment, Carter — whose right calf soon showed signs of giving way after reentering — dropped a pair of big buckets down the stretch as Alcoa held on for a 76-67 win. The Penn State signee was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the second consecutive season.

Throughout, you could see Riddick rising from his seat at key moments to applaud.

Watching this season’s Tornadoes “sparked many memories,” he said.

So was the chance to talk basketball with you again, big guy.

Happy 85th,

Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

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