STORY BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTOS BY WHITNEY JARRELD
One big question hovers over Brentwood Academy this season.
How do you replace a player like Darius Garland?
“Impossible,” BA coach Hubie Smith said with a laugh. “I mean, he’s going to be a pro. You don’t get many pros in your career, so you don’t replace anyone like him.”
Garland led the Eagles to four straight Division II-AA basketball titles before moving on to Vanderbilt, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Commodores’ fifth game.
The 6-foot-2 point guard is projected as a lottery pick at the NBA Draft in June.
“He had surgery in New York and they saved all his cartilage,” Smith said. “He’s going to make a complete recovery and he’ll be as good as new or maybe better than ever in the spring.”
Despite the loss of Garland, three other starters and eight seniors from last year’s 25-5 state champion, the Eagles are off to a 4-0 start this season.
“We’ve got a whole different team,” Smith said. “I think we have a little more depth, a little more balance than we had last year. I think we have a lot of upside to our team this year.”
BA got a surprise addition when Randy Brady transferred from Baylor during the summer.
The 6-4 guard is a five-star prospect who’s ranked as the state’s top prospect in the sophomore class by 247 Sports.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and a tremendous teammate,” Smith said. “He’s truly a special talent.”
Brady already has offers from Florida State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee State.
Baylor beat BA 70-68 on a last-second 3-pointer by Patrick Urey last year during the regular season before the Eagles avenged the loss in the state championship game.
Brady has made an immediate impact at BA, averaging 21 points, eight rebounds and three steals per game.
“The transition has been pretty good, actually,” Brady said. “I fit right in with everybody and everybody is accepting me, so things are going great.”
His backcourt partner, Marcus Fitzgerald, has been helping with the scoring load, averaging 16 points.
Fitzgerald’s uncle, Buck, is a former Tennessee cornerback and his grandfather, Maurice, is Hillsboro’s football coach.
“They’ve led me growing up and taught me most things I know about the game,” Marcus Fitzgerald said. “My granddad has been my biggest influence next to coach (Smith). He coached me from rec league and he keeps me calm.”
The 6-1 junior has offers from East Tennessee State and TSU with more likely to come.
Devyn Curtis, a 6-2 post, is the only returning starter, but is out until early January with a split rotator cuff sustained in a football game against McCallie in October.
“The doctor just said to rest and rehab for a month and then come back to basketball,” Curtis said. “You can’t really replace (Darius), but this is a completely different team. Darius is gone, so it’s what this new team can do now.”
Curtis, a linebacker, has football offers from Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
His partner in the paint is football teammate Nate Clifton, a 6-5, 250-pound post. The senior offensive tackle has at least 14 football offers, including Vanderbilt and Navy.
Curtis and Clifton are the Eagles’ best rebounders and defensive players in the post. They do the dirty work, helping the uptempo guards get open shots.
BA is trying to become the first Tennessee team to win five consecutive state titles. The #striveforfive hashtag pops up occasionally on the BA Twitter account.
“That would be crazy for the school and to be the first school to do it would be just amazing,” said Fitzgerald, who has improved drastically from last season. “It’s going to be very tough. We’ve just got to trust in coach Smith, do everything he says and he’ll get us there.”
BA (2003-06, 2015-18) and Ensworth (2011-14) are the only schools to fourpeat.
Smith will be seeking his eighth state title after winning four at BA, two with Ensworth’s girls and one with Bartlett’s boys. He’s 686-244 in 30 seasons (boys and girls).
Battle Ground Academy’s first-year coach, Jared Street, thinks BA will be just fine in the post-Darius Era.
“It’s impossible to replace a player like Darius, but the way that program is set up, the way coach Hubie coaches, it’s the next man up,” said Street, a BA assistant the previous three seasons. “You’ve got a lot of guys in that program at Brentwood Academy that are ready to step up.
“They’re prepared to play in state tournament games because of the intensity level of practice every day. We always believed when I was there our practices were just as intense as any game we’re playing. So you’ve got JV guys basically guarding varsity guys on a daily basis, so it only helps them in getting better.”
Street got a first-hand look at the new Eagles during a 78-51 loss at BA last week.
Smith will stick to his base philosophies that got him near the 700 career wins milestone, but also make some changes.
“We still want to play great defense and give people one shot, and control the tempo with pace and play fast,” Smith said. “Score early as often as you can and force turnovers. But what we do in the half-court set will definitely be adjusted on the personnel that we have, so it will be quite a bit different than what we’ve done in the past.”
Smith said this might be the most athletic team he’s ever coached and the Eagles have more size than they’ve had in the past. Brady is joined by three seniors and five juniors in BA’s rotation.
Fitzgerald and senior B.J. Davis will run the point and Brady will be the shooting guard although he can bring the ball up, too. Trevecca and Lee have shown interest in Davis.
Junior guard Clay Holmes, 6-4 Cory Reynolds, junior guard Adam Wass, and 6-7 post Eli Sutton should also make contributions.
BA will get a strong test at the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic from Dec. 19-23 at Fairdale, Ky.
Briarcrest (7-0) might be the team to beat in DII-AA, but don’t be surprised if BA makes another deep run. The “greatest winner that” Smith ever coached is gone, but the new crew is overflowing with potential.
“We’re pretty deep,” Smith said. “I think we’re just pretty good right now, but we have a chance to be really good when it’s all said and done.”
Brentwood Academy boys basketball coach Hubie Smith is 14 wins from 700 career victories. He’s 686-244 in 30 seasons (boys & girls) with 7 state titles. @theBAhoops @baeagles @wcsCOjq @WillCoSports @tssaa pic.twitter.com/KYzZ3BNLo9
— Chip Cirillo (@ChipCirillo) December 13, 2018