Fort Bend Bush (Richmond, Texas)
High School PE and health instructor Ronnie Courtney had hall duty on this fateful fall morning last year, when a then baby-faced sophomore looked out of place not only because he appeared new to the campus, but because he stood approximately 6-foot-8 inches and weighed 275 pounds.
Being that Courtney is also the school's basketball coach, he took it upon himself to welcome the lad sort of like how a shoe salesman might greet Imelda Marcos.
"I remember thinking, ‘What's he doing here?' " Courtney said. "As he walked about to the registrar I went right over to him and said ‘Who are you?' "
"I'm Cameron," the boy answered. "Cameron Ridley
And thus was the start of a beautiful relationship.
A season later, everyone around Richmond – and far beyond – knows who Cameron Ridley is, though it might be hard to recognize him.
He's gone from large and round to a lean and V-shaped, having lost some 20 pounds and growing another two inches.
He's one of the most coveted junior basketball players in the country and quite literally the largest attraction heading into this week's mammoth McDonald's Texas Invitational in Pasadena, Texas.
With 84 teams – 48 boys and 36 girls – featuring some 198 games at 13 different sites, this is considered the largest tournament in a state known for its girth so to be considered the main attraction is quite a distinction.
The tournament starts Thursday and runs through Saturday.
"I was told by a recruiter that (Ridley) is a potential NBA lottery pick," tournament chairman Ben Meador said. "He is that good. At 6-10, he's almost guaranteed a double-double every night he plays."
Such a notion a year ago would have seemed a wider stretch than Ridley's 86-inch wingspan.
According to Courtney, Ridley had never played organized basketball since he was chased down and hog-tied by the successful and exuberant coach who last year led Bush to a Class 5A state crown and 35-4 record and before that guided Willowridge, with T.J. Ford running the point, to state crowns in 2000 and 2001.
Oh, Ridley had dabbled in basketball as a freshman but it was nothing serious.
"I called the coach (the day he met Ridley) at his old high school and he said (Ridley) was lazy and didn't work hard," Courtney said. "When we first got him on the court he was like a deer looking into headlights."
But lazy he wasn't. Anything but.
He worked his caboose off to work his caboose off – and along the way picked up skills quickly and fluidly.
Ridley was a key factor doing the dirty work – clogging the lane, blocking shots and rebounding everything – during Bush's championship run.
Bush had loads of scorers in Darius Richardson, Jordan Clark and Demarcus Gatlin – all playing college ball now – so Ridley's offense wasn't needed much. He still averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and eight blocks per game.
But with a largely new cast of scorers, the nation's No. 25 team according to the MaxPreps preseason Xcellent 25
needs all of Ridley's vast skills to repeat as state champion.
Courtney said Ridley has quickly transformed into an all-around offensive threat with the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and even shoot 3-pointers.
It's why schools such as North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky have already made offers to Ridley, according to Courtney.
According to MaxPreps basketball editor Jason Hickman, Ridley is the No. 28 junior recruit in the country
"Any time you have a 6-10, 260-pound five-star kid like Ridley in the middle, you have a chance to do some very positive things," Courtney said. "Whether we can repeat will have to be answered."
Though Ridley answered many questions over a successful summer playing with the AAU Houston Hoop Stars, Courtney said his big man isn't resting on his new-found laurels.
He's still the humble kid he saw roaming the halls a year ago.
"He's a very quiet young man," Courtney said. "He mostly says ‘yes sir' and ‘no sir.' When he gets on the court he's pushing the pedal to the metal. He knows what's at stake."
As far as winning the tournament, it's certainly no slam dunk for Ridley or the Broncos.
In fact, they placed third in the Gold Division last year. Bush went 4-1 during the three-day tournament, losing in the quarterfinals.
"It kind of woke us up," Courtney said. "We understood quickly that we weren't as good as we thought we were. It definitely gave us some insight what we had to do to get better."
Despite last year's finish and the graduation of its top three players, Bush is favored to win the tournament according to a poll of tournament officials. The other favorites in order are: North Crowley (Fort Worth)
, Berkner (Richardson)
Bellaire is actually the Gold Division I defending champion. Other defending boys champions are SA Taft (Gold D2), DeSota (Silver D1), Klein Collins (Silver D2), Kingwood (Bronze D1) and Channelview (Bronze D2).
Girls defending champions are: Mansfield Summit-Arlington, Texas
(Gold D1) and Cypress Creek-Houston
(Gold D2). Eventual state 5A champion Cy-Fair (Cypress)
, led by national Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike
, placed second in Division I.
As far as favorites this season, Jay (San Antonio)
is the No. 1 seed, followed by MacArthur (Irving)
, led by one of the nation's top sophomores Alexis Jones
. The next three in order are Duncanville
, Cypress Falls and Cy-Fair. MacArthur is ranked 18th nationally in the MaxPreps preseason Xcellent 25
The tournament has overcome a couple early blows when defending national champion Yates (Houston)
bowed out of the tournament a month ago for unspecified reasons. It might have been a relief to some coaches, who aren't crazy about Yates' remarkably relentless up-tempo style that led them to a national-best 116 points per game in 2009-10. … The team that replaced Yates at the last minute was Second Baptist (Houston)
, the first private-school team to ever to be invited. The big draw there was junior L.J. Rose
, the son of former University of Houston star Lynden Rose, who is considered one of the top junior guards in the country. … But L.J. Rose broke a bone in his foot and is out until January. …. The 6-3, 175-pounder is ranked the No. 24 junior recruit in the country according to Hickman. … This is the 11th tournament in Pasadena, a suburb of Houston, but the eighth year McDonald's has sponsored under guidance of Meador. … According to Meador, the tournament is a year-long proposition and requires 400 volunteers, 51 committees and 14 sub-committees. … The tournament has raised more than $525,000 to the Pasadena Educational Foundation the last seven years. … The championship games on Saturday will be streamed live on foxsports.com. …. Look for photos, video and print coverage by MaxPreps.com throughout the three day event. … For a complete overview of the tournament, including brackets, former champions and MVPs, go to www.texasinvitational.com