Shows the world
what Clay County
fans already knew
By THOMAS P. WEAVER
Dale Hollow HORIZON Editor
MURFREESBORO-Tennessean sportswriter Tom Kreager said it best in the Blue Cross Basketball Championship postgame news conference, after Clay County senior star Tyreke Key had what his colleague Michael Murphy described as “perhaps the best individual performance in state tournament history.”
“If there’s anyone in the state that didn’t know who Tyreke was before this tournament, I think everyone probably knows who he is by now,” Kreager prophetically stated.
After leading the entire state in scoring average, breaking his school’s scoring mark, surpassing 3,000 points to become the Upper Cumberland’s all-time leading scorer, and being named Class A Mr. Basketball during the regular season, the Indiana State signee led his Bulldog team to the title game with state tournament production never seen, or maybe even dreamed of, before.
Not only did he break the single-season scoring record (1,312 points) previously held by University of Kentucky legend and professional player Tony Delk during the event, but he also scored the most points ever in a state tournament game with 54 in Clay County’s quarterfinal victory over Loretto and went on to break the record for the most points ever scored in a state tournament with 128 in three games in as many days.
He also tied the records for most points in a quarter (23) and most field goals in a tournament (44), before becoming only the second player in history to be named Tournament MVP in a losing effort, joining former Indiana Hoosier Kirk Haston (Perry County, 1996).
Key averaged a double-double (42 pts./13 rbs.) during the tournament, scoring the new record of 54 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the opening round win over the Mustangs, putting up 34 and 12 boards in the Dawgs’ semifinal win over Grace Christian Academy of Knoxville, and capping his amazing weekend off with 40 points and 14 rebounds in the one-point championship game loss to Harriman.
His performance opened eyes across the state and maybe even worldwide.
“On day one, he revealed what folks around here have known or at least suspected for a long time,” Key’s head coach Rob Edwards said when asked about the buzz his star player created. “When he scored 54 the first day, it lit the fuse and it just spread like wildfire as they say.
“Everybody knows about him now and I was told he was trending more than Drake on twitter at one time. I asked if that was just here in Tennessee and they said, ‘no coach, across the world.’”
Whether or not Key had a worldwide reach might be questioned, but his statewide celebrity was evident, especially after the TSSAA gave him a special never-seen-before honor—the presentation of a game ball recognizing his landmark achievements.
“It’s unprecedented by the TSSAA to acknowledge an individual by giving him a game ball (the one he broke Delk’s record with),” Edwards said. “They had never done that before. So, I think he was the darling of the dance so to speak, not only because of his performance, but also because of his personality and his body language on the court.
“That attracts as many people as his talent does, especially when you are talking about the TSSAA, who is always big on sportsmanship and those type things. They wanted to use him as an example showing you can be humble and still be a great player.”
Key finished his career as the state’s 10th leading scorer all-time with 3,237 points and set a new bar of 1,383 points for a season, bringing his senior year average to 37.37 points per game.
And he’s captured the hearts of everybody who’s seen him play along the way.
“He just has that gift that makes people want to be around him,” Edwards said when asked how his star player accomplished his impeccable social status off the court, despite dominating the same people when on the hardwood. “I think they see greatness in him and that he’s going to accomplish even greater things in college and maybe even beyond.”
Key received a standing ovation from the entire crowd, including his opposing team and their fans, when he broke the game scoring-mark last Thursday, and he also got the same when he was named the tournament’s MVP.
He didn’t even mention basketball when asked what he would remember most about this season by Kreager, showing his teammates and the people along for the ride were most important to him.
“Everything,” Key said. “Just the bus rides (where) we’re always hanging out together, always cutting up, and joking around. Just everything about it.”
And when posed the question asking if there would be any time for reflection on what he had accomplished or thoughts about coming up short of the gold, Key showed he had one direction in mind—moving forward and not looking back with regrets.
“I won’t think about it, I’ll just be in the gym, probably still shooting and getting ready for college.”
See more about Key and his record-setting tournament and season in an upcoming special section commemorating Clay County’s historic run.