When the Rumble on the Ridge gets underway Thanksgiving Day in Forrest City, you might want to look close at some of the names playing.
Not only because a few of them might be Razorbacks one day, but there’s also a few that might add to the number who have played in the event that are in “The Show” already.
“It doesn’t seem like 13 years, but when I look back over all the records and all the guys we’ve had come through here, it is kind of impressive,” Baxter said. “There are 7 guys in the NBA right now that have come through here. Everybody in town is getting ready to Rumble again.”
Conway, East Poinsett County and Jonesboro Westside in the field is host Forrest City.
The out-of-state teams are Cleveland (MS) Eastside, Lafayette (LA) St. Thomas More, Russellville (AL) High and Jackson (TN) Liberty Tech.
“It’s the first time that we have had four Arkansas teams in the tournament and we kind of like that idea,” Baxter said.
Brackets for the tournament can be found at http://www.rumbleridge.com/
There are certainly some headline names in this year’s event including at least 5 bonafide Division 1 players from Arkansas.
That obviously begins with East Poinsett County's Ky Madden (6-5, 180) and Jonesboro Westside's Hunter Mickelson (6-10, 185) – who are both consensus top 61 players nationally along with Little Rock Parkview junior and UA commit Aaron Ross (6-8, 225) according to Scout.com’s 2011 rankings.
There’s also the Conway trio – Nebraska commit Kenyon McNeaill, UAB commit Preston Purifoy and junior Micah Delph, son of former Razorbacks Marvin Delph.
“When we saw how highly ranked those guys (Madden and Mickelson) were and the proximity to Forrest City, we decided to go after them and fortunately for us, both teams wanted to come,” Baxter said.
“Ky Madden – I think he is in the top 15 juniors in the whole country,” Baxter added. “We’re excited to have him here obviously and Mickelson – he’s in the top 50. We’re also happy to have Conway in here, too, because they have Marvin Delph’s son and two other players that are being recruited. They think they are going to be one of the top Arkansas teams.”
The out of state contingent is led by Mississippi junior center Johnny O’Bryant (6-10), who is ranked as the ninth-best player nationally in the 2011 class by Scout.com.
“Gerald Snider - the scout that finds these teams for me – says that without a doubt he is the best player in Mississippi,” Baxter said. “And as you know, Mississippi puts out some fine basketball players.
“He says he is in that same class as Al Jefferson, who went straight from high school to the NBA, but is not quite as polished yet,” Baxter added. “This guy is supposed to be a really good one and I know a lot of colleges would really like to get him.”
The tournament opens on Thanksgiving Day at 3:30 with East Poinsett County against St. Thomas More
“The first game we have East Poinsett against St. Thomas More, who came to the second Rumble we had,” Baxter said. “They (More) had two guys – Brandon Mouton that went to Texas and Billy Boyd, who went to Louisiana Tech – that were great players.
“Their coach called me this year and said that he had two guys (6-4 Will Norman and 6-5 Xavier Blackburn) this year that he thought were in the same caliber,” Baxter added. “We invited them back and they are going to be matched up against Ky Madden and East Poinsett County in the opening game so that should be a great way to start it.
That leads into a 5 p.m. matchup featuring Mickeslon and Bryant.
“We are matching two of the top big guys in the country that are juniors in the second game with Westside playing Eastside,” Baxter said. “We wanted to see that match-up.”
That brought about a question about just how the match-ups are set up each year.
“We do two things,” Baxter said. “We don’t want to match up any Arkansas teams right off the bat. The other thing is if we have a match-up like the Mickelson kid versus O’Bryant – two of the top players – we match them up early because that is the only way we can guarantee we can get to see them play head-to-head.
“Because all the teams are quality teams, it is impossible to rate them 1-2-3 and down the line because they play in different areas of the country,” Baxter said. “So we just kind and match up the name players against the people they can compete against.”
The 6:30 p.m. game on opening night will feature the Forrest City vs. Russellville.
“I was in Little Rock and went by UALR and they were asking me who all was in the tournament this year,” Baxter said. “I told them Russellville, Alabama and one of the assistant coaches told me they are recruiting two guys from there. The coach’s son from there is 6-9 (Nat Dunston) so we have at least three guys that are 6-9 or 6-10.”
The final game of the first day has Conway battling Liberty Tech, a team that is familiar with playing Arkansas programs.
“Liberty Tech won the Poplar Bluff tournament last year and beat both Forrest City and Green County Tech. And they have them all back.”
Baxter has been around the tournament during all of its run – which got going after the highly successful King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff ran its course.
“When we started this thing, I talked to Travis Creed – the guy who did the King Cotton for years down there in Pine Bluff,” Baxter said. “He told me to go for quality teams with coaches that behave themselves and that way you won’t have anybody that embarrasses you. We have tried to do that.
The event tries to limit its expenses by bringing teams from Arkansas and surrounding states – something that has been very successful because of the talent in Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma.
“We try to bring teams in from about a 400-mile radius and it has been amazing the talent that has been in that small area during that time,” Baxter said.
Of course one measure of that talent is how many college coaches you see in the stands during the event.
Former Memphis and current Kentucky John Calipari, Pelphrey, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy have been regulars while former Kansas and current North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl and many other elite coaches have stopped by.
“It does tell you a lot when you look up in the stands and see Coach Cal, Coach Pelphrey, the guy from Mississippi State, the guy from Ole Miss and so many others,” Baxter said. “It validates what you are doing, the teams you have, the players that you have.”
Asked for some of his memories and best players, Baxter had plenty but current Golden State Warrior Monta Ellis came right to mind.
“In my opinion, the best pure basketball player that has ever been here was Monta Ellis, who averaged 44 points a game in this thing,” Baxter said. “We (Forrest City) held him to 38 one night, but he got 52 the next night. He was the best just pure scorer that I have seen over here.
“For best match-up, I believe it was in ’04 that one of the opening match-ups was (current LSU star) Tasmin Mitchell from Louisiana against (former North Carolina start and current Indiana Pacer) Tyler Hansbrough from Poplar Bluff,” Baxter said. “You talk about a war. That was something to see.
“Then in the finals of that year, Bolivar Tennessee played Poplar Bluff for the championship and Hansborough was matched up against Wayne Chism, who is now at the University of Tennessee,” Baxter remembered. “They were both 6-10 and that was another battle.”
The Poplar Bluff team that featured Hansbrough and younger brother Ben – who was at Mississippi State and is now at Notre Dame – was tops.
“I think the best team we have ever had here was that Poplar Bluff team, but that is up for debate,” Baxter said. “I think that is what guys over here think.”
The 2004 event also probably included the best field and the best top-flight talent.
“In ’04, six of the teams that were here out of the eight went on and won their state championships,” Baxter said. “That year there were 3 guys – Monta Ellis, Tyler Hansborough and Tasmin Mitchell – who were three of the top five players in America.”
As for an unlikely winner, it was the 2003 Pulaski Academy team led by former Razorback walk on Sammy Munsey that had very little height at all.
“The surprise team that we have had since we have been doing this thing is when we brought in Pulaski Academy,” Baxter said. “They were in ’03 and they won the thing. In the finals, they played Denham Springs and Tasmin Mitchell was a junior. Munsey put on a show hitting shots out of that corner. He had 32 points and they won the championship against a very good Denham Springs team.”
He also has fond memories of the first event back in 1996 – one that featured a future Kentucky player in Marvin Stone and a future Razorback one in T.J. Cleveland.
“The first tournament we had we had Minor High out of Birmingham matched up with Grissom High out of Huntsville, Alabama,” Baxter said. “Grissom had a big guy named Marvin Stone, who later went on to Kentucky. Minor had T.J. Cleveland on that team and they went on and won the state championship in Alabama.
"In ’07 in the final game, we had Duncanville, Texas and they were number one in America at that time and they beat Putnam City with Xavier Henry, who is now at Kansas,” Baxter said. “That went down to the last second. We have had some great championship games at this thing.”