By TREY WILLIAMS
Patrick Good passed him the torch and Josh “Rico” Releford has maintained the hot hand.
Releford has given David Crockett a puncher’s chance during a season in which the Pioneers are replacing seven of the top eight players from a team that reached the state tournament last season for the first time in program history.
The 5-foot-9 senior guard has averaged 26 points and five assists per game during the Pioneers’ 8-7 start. He hit game-winning 3-pointers in two victories versus Daniel Boone to complete 33- and 28-point performances against the Washington County rival.
Releford is quick to credit Good, who set Crockett’s scoring record last season and has scored 21 points twice as a freshman during Appalachian State’s first 15 games.
“I learned a lot from Patrick,” Releford said. “He taught me what to do and what not to do. I really just took that and ran with it.”
Releford made a contested trey over two defenders to beat Boone for third place in the Hardee’s Classic and hit a pull-up 26-footer off the dribble to push the Pioneers past the ‘Blazers in their first conference meeting last week.
“I didn’t anticipate him shooting that far out,” Crockett coach John Good said. “It was (a good 26 feet). And he just goes right into it. It wasn’t like he forced it or anything like that. It was an in-a-rhythm shot. And he’s not afraid to miss ‘em; that’s why he can hit ‘em.
“I mean it makes a difference. There are some kids that are scared to death. They try to pass that thing, get it out of their hands as quickly as possible. But he steps up there and he’s taking it, and if he hits it, he hits it. If he doesn’t, you know, he’s okay with it. And that’s the way you have to be.”
Boone coach Chris Brown just shakes his head while complimenting Releford’s talent and success under pressure.
Releford has logged many hours alone in Carver Recreation Center.
“In the offseason I would just go to the rec and work on those tough shots,” he said. “I picture my moments. Like the game-winners against Daniel Boone – I just pictured that. When I’m in the gym alone I put myself in game situations.”
Releford’s father Randall played for Buck Van Huss at Dobyns-Bennett (class of ’84). Josh has heard how tough it was to score 1,000 points without a 3-point line and how playing for Van Huss was as tough as playing for former Science Hill coach George Pitts.
“I’ve heard (Science Hill Hall of Famer) Damon Johnson explain how Coach Pitts was and they kind of sound familiar,” Releford said. “They get in you.”
Good’s intensity is a reminder that he played for Pitts, too.
Releford left Science Hill for Crockett his freshman year. His brother, Jeremiah Greenlee, had played at University High, and Releford’s mother, Johna Robbins, is friends with Good’s wife Tracy. (Releford said his mother is about the only one who doesn’t refer to him as Rico, a nickname he picked up from rapper Cam’ron’s character in “Paid in Full.”)
Releford said he was a “hothead” his freshman year, but has found fewer potential distractions at Crockett.
“This was the best move for me,” he said. “I love it.”
Becoming the go-to guy was essentially a process of elimination that began during summer camps.
“I started to realize quickly if I didn’t make the shots that I like to take at a high rate then we was gonna be in trouble,” Releford said.
A fan of defensive-minded NBA player Patrick Beverley, Releford isn’t a stats-happy gunner.
“I could score two points a game,” he said, “and as long as we’re winning I’m happy.”
Big Seven coaches didn’t anticipate Crockett winning much following last season’s graduation floodgates. The Pioneers were picked sixth.
“Every day we look at that (preseason poll),” Releford said. “I make sure we look. That gives us motivation going into practice or a game.”
Releford has college interest from Lees-McRae, Florida Southern, Roane State and Marvyille. Tennessee Wesleyan coach Mike Poe, who coached Crockett to the substate in 1990, made Releford his first offer.
“I know Coach Poe wants him bad,” Good said. “He offered him two years ago.”
Releford is a weapon at both ends of the court. He guarded opponents’ top perimeter player last season, and gave Oak Ridge star Tee Higgins trouble much of the way in the Pioneers’ two-game sweep.
“Coming from East Tennessee you only hear about kids from Memphis, Oak Ridge – you only hear about those kids (outside this area),” Releford said. “Every time we played somebody like that it was always a challenge going after their best player. That was my role last year to defend him. I think I did a good job. He got a little loose, though, at the end on those fast-break, pull-up threes. But I mean, that’s hard to stop. … He could play in the ACC easily (if not for playing football at Clemson).”
Releford must pick his spots on defense now that he’s almost indispensable on offense.
“Last year I was gonna rip you; that was my mindset,” Releford said. “This year I’m gonna try to get my five count and not let them score. I’m not as aggressive.”
Good often is tempted to advise ambiguously – be aggressive but don’t take too many chances.
“It’s good if we can have three or four fouls in the fourth quarter to play with,” Good said, “and then he can guard whoever.”
Releford said sophomore John Kollie is quickly emerging as a sturdy defender. Other teammates whose improvement has impressed him this season include 6-foot-6 post Paul Arrowood and shooting guard Ethan Burger.
Releford’s smooth transition into the bread-and-butter role has impressed his coach, and Good can be a tough sell.
“Josh just kind of picked up where Pat was at for us,” Good said. “I mean he’s been really good for us. There’s sometimes you’re like, ‘We probably could’ve got a better shot. But I don’t know if we could’ve or not.’ He makes tough shots. …
“I’m gonna tell you what, his maturity and leadership qualities – he’s really rallied this team together. When we get a loss or game-winning time or whatever, he’s been the same. He’s got upset a time or two, but I think that’s just the competitive nature of the kid. I’ve seen him pull kids to him in practice and talk to ‘em and kind of get ‘em on the same page. …
“He doesn’t back down from any challenge. And that’s what you want. Josh is not only physically tough, but he’s mentally tough, too. And I think that’s more important.”