By David Fong
BRANDT — Since taking over at his alma mater last season, Bethel boys basketball coach Brett Kopp has been preaching one mantra to his players: “Small town, big tradition.”
The message is simple, but clear. The Bees may come from a small school, but they boast a rich basketball tradition, including a boys state basketball championship in 2001 and a girls state title in 1986. The leaders of those two respective teams — Matt Witt (Eastern Kentucky University) and Kelly Lyons cash (Old Dominion) — both went on to become Division I college stars.
Kopp wants to make sure his players add their own threads to Bethel’s basketball tapestry.
“Every day, we are working toward adding to that tradition,” said Kopp, who was a member of the 2001 Division IV state championship team. “You either leave your legacy behind or you get forgotten.”
This year’s Bethel team will get a chance to add to the tradition this weekend as it becomes the first team in school history to participate in the Flyin’ to the Hoop High School Basketball Invitational at Fairmont High School’s Trent Arena. The event — which was founded in 2003 by Troy High School graduate Eric Horstman — regularly brings in not only some of the top teams in Ohio, but also some of the top-ranked players and teams from around the nation.
Bethel is scheduled to play Roger Bacon — the No. 3-ranked Division III team in the first state poll of the season — at 4:45 p.m. Monday, the final day of the three-day event.
“The kids are pretty excited,” Kopp said. “We’ve known about this since last March or last April. It’s going to be a great experience. This is the first time Bethel has ever been in it, so the kids are pretty excited.”
Bethel will be playing in the fourth game of the day on Monday, on the heels of a pair of games featuring some of the best high school players in the United States. Two games before the Bees step on the court Pacific Prep (Calif.) will take on Trotwood-Madison. Pacific Prep features five-star recruit Gary Trent Jr., who has signed with Duke University, along with teammates Paul Scruggs (who has signed with Xavier University) and Abu Kigab (Oregon).
Just before Bethel plays, Wheeler (Ga.) will take on Cincinnati Princeton. Wheeler features undecided five-star recruit Terry Armstrong, Darius Petty (who has signed with Louisville), Jordan Usher (USC), E.J. Montgomery (Auburn) and undecided four-star Jordan Tucker. Princeton is led by Darius Bazley, who has committed to play at Ohio State.
All of that star power on the floor means plenty of star power will be in the stands, as well, as dozens of Division I college coach flock to the tournament every year.
“Tubby Smith, (John) Calipari, Archie Miller — you name it, they’ve been there,” Kopp said. “Dayton provides easy access to all of these college coaches. It’s easy to get there and it’s on a weekend that is convenient for a lot of these college coaches.”
With so many big names expected to be in attendance, Kopp said making sure his team stays focused on the task at hand — and doesn’t get caught star-gazing — will be key.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said to them when we played last year in the district final at UD Arena,” Kopp said. “I want them to walk out there and soak it all in, but once the ball is tipped, they’ve still got to play basketball. Our MO has always been our effort. I’ve had a lot of people tell me how hard our kids play. There are going to be a lot of people there. I want them to see how hard we play.
“High school is all about making memories. Our No. 1 goal is to win the (Cross County Conference) title. We’ve got two games this week leading up to our game against Roger Bacon and if we can win both of those, we’ll be 8-0 in the league and in the driver’s seat. Then we get to be the first team in school history to play in the Flyin’ to the Hoop. We’ve got some opportunities to make some memories.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong