For its rising academia in the middle 1850s, Murfreesboro, Tenn. earned the nickname "Athens of Tennessee."
The way young women are shooting hoops in the city, it's soon going to be called "Girls Basketball USA."
Three of nation's Top 25 high school teams in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Rankings
— No. 2 Riverdale
(18-0), No. 9 Blackman
(18-0) and No. 24 Oakland
(15-2) — are from Murfreesboro, a city of 109,000 in Rutherford County that sits smack dab in the middle of Tennessee.
Granted, Murfreesboro is the fastest-growing city in the state and one of the fastest in the nation, but considering there are roughly 18,000 girls high school programs throughout the country, sporting three Top 25 teams in one non-metropolitan region sort of boggles the noggin.
"It's amazing," said longtime national girls basketball expert and MaxPreps correspondent Clay Kallam. "Perhaps if you're in the New York City or Southern California or Washington D.C. region something like this could happen. But in such a small town? Remarkable."
More remarkable was last week's rankings, when all three were in the Top 10. But host Oakland was upended by Blackman 46-28 on Friday behind 17 points from freshman Crystal Dangerfield
and before a packed crowd that included University of Tennessee coach Holly Warlick.
She was there largely to watch Dangerfield, fellow freshman Jazz Bond
, a 6-foot-3 wing who had eight points and eight rebounds, and Alex Johnson
, a 6-foot sophomore who is second on the team at 14.9 points per game.
If her schedule permits, Warlick figures to be at Friday's monumental showdown between Riverdale and Blackman, where presale tickets were on sale Monday. Riverdale coach Cory Barrett said more than 3,000 fans will no doubt fill Blackman's gym for that.
"Girls basketball is a big deal in this state, especially around here," he said. "Fans really love their girls basketball and we're really fortunate to have some really good players in the region.
"The rest of the country is just finding out how good Tennessee basketball is."
At the collegiate level, Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt is the queen and more than put the state and basketball on the map. She won more games (1,098) than any college coach for either gender along with eight national championships.
"She made an impact not only in the nation but world-wide," Barrett said. "When you think of Tennessee, you think of Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols."
At the prep level, Rick Insell at nearby
Shelbyville Central (Tenn.)
set the standard, winning 10 state crowns and a couple mythical national championships while piling up a remarkable 775-148 record including a 110-game win streak.
He was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame in 2007 and won the prestigious Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's Morgan Wootten Award for lifetime achievement in girls basketball in 2010.
Insell is still going strong as head coach at Middle Tennessee State — also in Murfreesboro — with six NCAA Tournament appearances in seven years while producing five All-Americans and three WNBA draft picks.
Barrett was an assistant under Insell at Shelbyville Central for two seasons. Insell's influence on Barrett and the region can't be overstated, said the first-year Riverdale coach.
"I think Rick and Shelbyville Central set the entire tone," Barrett said. "He set the bar for everyone else. Now we all have room to grow. Beyond our region and Science Hill (Johnson City)
(No. 13 nationally), we have great rural and small-school programs that play at an amazing level. I think it's second to none in the country."
After leaving Shelbyville Central, Barrett coached at one of those small rural schools,
Hickman County (Centerville)
, taking a six-win team the previous season to the state's Sweet 16. Hickman County was a state power in the 90s, before falling on hard times.
Barrett had to do no such turnaround with Riverdale, which won at least 30 games the previous three seasons — including a 3A state title last year — under John Wild, who took an assistant's job at Lipscomb.
Riverdale, which also won state crowns in 2007 and 2010, has at least five Division I players, two for certain in Middle Tennessee-signee seniors Tyisha Petty
and Olivia Jones
. Petty, a 5-6 point guard, is averaging a team-best 15.4 points a game, while the 5-9 Jones is at 14.7 to go along with a team-best 9.1 rebounds per game. Tiffany Lewis
, a 5-8 senior, is considering her options, and the junior duo of 5-9 Alexa Middleton
(15.2 ppg) and 6-foot Shelbie Davenport
(14.3) are two of the state's top junior recruits. Other strong players in the rotation are 6-1 junior Brandy Alley
and 5-5 junior Shanique Heard
for a team that averages 73 points per game (there's no shot clock in Tennessee) and forces 28 turnovers a game.
Riverdale has defeated seven out-of-state opponents — including Illinois power Bolingbrook twice — and has a win over Science Hill.
"We play absolutely the best competition we can play," Barrett said. "And I think we play the right way."
They all do in this town, which isn't by coincidence, Barrett said.
"There's an influx of people coming into our county and I think there's just a ton of kids and families committed to year-round basketball," Barrett said. "The majority of these kids play travel ball and they've all been doing so for seven or eight years. That commitment and the training they get at the lower and higher levels pays off.
"Beyond that, I just think we're all realizing how many good female basketball players there are in middle Tennessee."
Kallam thinks the state's reputation has been golden for years and that can't but help with the basketball culture.
"If you're an elite girls athlete in Tennessee, you're probably going to play basketball," he said.