Is there anything quite as nice as a post-season run in the sport of basketball? Yes, the regular season wins are good and meaningful. But, as we all know, this is a tournament sport, and getting a group to come together at the right time can be the Mona Lisa. You know, a real work of art.
Blackman high school has been the bell cow for boy’s basketball in Rutherford County in recent times. Entering this season, eight District tournament titles, six Region tourney titles, and seven trips to Murphy Center for the State tournament since 2012 says it all. This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Blaze With only one senior, shooting woes, and a last-place finish in the district regular season, it looked like the only way the Blaze would make it to the Glasshouse is if they took an Uber. And then Leonardo Da Vinci got out his paintbrush.
Blackman head coach Barry Wortman has long used a consistent approach in building the Blaze basketball program. Big on fundamentals and with a great understanding of the game, this Ohio native finds a way to win with what he has. Styles have changed during his tenure based on talent and personnel. One thing that has not changed is the fact Blackman plays hard every time out and usually advances deeper in the post-season.
The 2022-23 was supposed to be different as Blackman opened the district tournament playing in the first-round elimination game. Plagued by inconsistency on the offensive end, the Blaze had let some games slip away and saddled themselves with a win-or-go-home game right out of the tournament gate.
“This team never lacked toughness and we always played hard”, says Wortman. “We just were not executing well on offense and were not closing out games as we should.”
All that changed beginning with that first-round game against Riverdale. Patience on offense, solid defense, and rebounding mixed with great shot selection have fueled a seven-game post-season win streak and another trip to the Murphy Center.
“Finding our rhythm offensively has been the biggest key during the past seven games”, says Wortman. “Our point guard Isaiah Divens has been instrumental. He has really come around and has done an excellent job of getting us into successful situations.”
The senior point guard has been a huge key, but the one holding the paintbrush is, of course, Wortman. Incorporating the shooting ability of freshman Brayden Flowers and Tyler Eady along with the vastly improved post-play of Christian Johnson, the Blaze offense caught fire. Subbing players with frequency, the veteran coach has figured a way to get the most out of his entire roster.
“This really is a very unselfish group”, says Wortman. “Because we have been patient on offense, our kids have been able to think team first and provided good scoring opportunities. Kids are taking shots in rhythm and that has made a big difference.”
This latest work of art has been one of the finer paintings in the Barry Wortman art gallery. The evolution of this group of young men is no doubt something special. Winning the old-school way has been a welcomed breath of fresh air for basketball purists. Blackman will hope to keep the run rolling next week in the TSSAA State tournament. But for now, they can sit back and smile with pride about this post-season run.
“Every team has its own story”, says Wortman. “Each journey is special and has memorable moments. But I will say this group has really turned it on and it has been very rewarding for all of us.”