Two of the top players for the Oak Ridge Wildcats, E.J. Bush and Tee Higgins, will not play in the Arby’s Classic in Bristol this week. It’s a basketball tournament that has featured dramatic games, record-setting performances, and close wins—and losses.
Bush, a 6-foot-4 senior who was injured in the 82-72 win over Science Hill in the Champion Chevrolet Shootout in Johnson City on December 17, has a knee injury. It’s not clear how long he might be unable to play, or if he’ll travel with the team to the Arby’s Classic this week.
Bush can score 16-20 points per game and pull down six to 10 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Higgins, a wide receiver who has committed to Clemson, is leaving Tuesday for the 10th annual Under Armour All-America Football Game in Orlando on January 1. That game features more than 90 of the nation’s best senior high school football players. Besides Higgins, they include wide receiver Amari Rodgers of Catholic—he’s also committed to Clemson—and punter Joe Doyle of Farragut.
Higgins, a 6-foot-5 senior who was a Mr. Basketball finalist earlier this year, will be back playing basketball after the January 1 game. After the Arby’s Classic, the Wildcats are scheduled to play district rival Karns at home on January 3.
Herbert Booker will start in place of Bush on Tuesday at the Arby’s Classic, Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said Monday. Booker picked up more playing time in the Champion Chevrolet Shootout at Science Hill earlier this month because Higgins did not play due to right shoulder inflammation. Booker, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, played well, Green said.
After not playing a few games, Higgins practiced last week and did well, Green said.
Other players who are expected to get more playing time for the undefeated Wildcats (11-0, 5-0 District 3-AAA) in the Arby’s Classic this week are 5-foot-11 sophomores JaVonte Thomas and Joe Kesterson, and 5-foot-9 sophomore Marcus Smith.
Green said he believes those other players, who have received playing time this season, are ready to step in for Bush and Higgins.
“Those are two of our better players,” Green said of Bush and Higgins, and the fact that they won’t be in the lineup this week. “It’s a concern, but it’s also an opportunity for some of those other guys to step up.”
The Wildcats will still have veteran seniors Tajion Jones (6-foot-4), Tyshawn Young (6-foot-5), and Anthony Gibson (6-foot-1), and junior Levert Smith (5-foot-9).
Jones had a game-high 28 points and was credited with seven three-pointers and seven rebounds during a thrilling double-overtime game against David Crockett in last year’s Arby’s Classic. It was a personal best for Jones, both in terms of total points scored and made three-pointers.
That quarterfinal game featured a combined 30 successful three-point shots. The game has made a short list of best-ever Arby’s contests among even longtime tournament fanatics, according to the Bristol Herald Courier. The two teams together shot an unheard of 53.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the game wasn’t settled until Crockett star Patrick Good, now playing for Appalachian State, hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Pioneers an 87-85 win.
Gibson led the Wildcats with 22 points during another Arby’s Classic game last year, a fifth-place win over Taylor County, and he had 100 percent shooting from the free throw line.
Although he won’t play this year, Higgins had key contributions in those two games as well, adding 25 points, six three-pointers, five rebounds, and two steals during the David Crockett game, and 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals during the Taylor County game.
The Wildcats’ first opponent in the Arby’s Classic this year will be a team they’ve already beaten once this season: Science Hill. The two teams will play their first game of the double-elimination tournament at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Tennessee High in Bristol.
The Wildcats beat the Hilltoppers (10-6, 2-0 District 1-AAA) 82-72 on December 17 in the Champion Chevrolet Shootout at Science Hill in Johnson City.
The winner of Tuesday’s Oak Ridge-Science Hill game will play the winner of another Tuesday game between Trinity (Kentucky) and Dobyns-Bennett. The Trinity-Dobyns-Bennett game starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The game between the winners of the Oak Ridge-Science Hill and Trinity-Dobyns-Bennett games will be at 6:30 p.m. December 29.
The losers will play at 10:30 a.m. December 29.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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