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EHT Preview: The Art Of Turning Two

  • Eldorado's Braden Attebury will join some elite company if he can repeat as EHT MVP. In the last 53 years, only  three other players have won back-to-back MVP honors.

    Eldorado's Braden Attebury will join some elite company if he can repeat as EHT MVP. In the last 53 years, only three other players have won back-to-back MVP honors.

By Michael Dann
updated: 12/27/2017 6:34 PM

Some might consider it as rare as seeing Hailey's Comet, but there is no denying that winning the Eldorado Holiday Tournament back-to-back seasons is a feat that hasn't been accomplished very often.

The EHT turns 53 years old this week and in that time, only seven teams have won back-to-back titles.

Cairo first turned the trick in 1978 and 1979 and that was followed by Pinckneyville in 1980 and 1981.

Carmi-White County won twice in 1985 and 1986, while Massac County (1995-1996) and West Frankfort (2003-2004) also won back-to-back, while Norris City-Omaha-Enfield won the tournament three years in a row, 1988-1990 and Harrisburg remains the only team to win four straight from 2010-2013.

In comes Eldorado, who knocked off Herrin 57-47 in overtime last year. Josh Bradley has a senior-laden group, that not only has the No. 1 seed in hand, but also sports an undefeated 11-0 record.

Bradley even admits that on paper that should help his team -- a starting five -- that all played a big part in last year's championship.

He also recognizes that they're still kids.

"These are 15, 16, 17 year old kids and you don't know how they're going to react night-to-night. That's why there hasn't been very many back-to-back championships and Eldorado never has had one."

So when asked what it would mean, Bradley was quick with a response.

"It would mean everything," Bradley said. "That's the one our kids want to win. Obviously you want to win every tournament, but to the people of Eldorado, the EHT is the holy grail. You win it and you've done something. That's been our kids' focus all season long."

Getting there is one thing. Winning it is another.

So what does it take?

Bradley knows you can talk about match-ups and draws, but what it really comes down: attrition.

"Four games in three days is hard," he said. "There's usually anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 people in the gym. It can be chaotic and kids aren't used to playing in that kind of environment. Who can handle that usually comes out in top."

There is also something to be said for composure Bradley admitted.

"You have to know that teams are going to make runs. You have to know you're not going to shoot the ball that well every night and really play defense, rebound and find a way.

"(Our) guys are resilient enough to do that. Everyone wants to win the holiday tournament and everyone is going to play with a maximum effort. So, you have to be able to come up with two or three plays that the other team doesn't come up with to win and it's usually a coin flip to see who can do that."

Eldorado has the most wins of any team in the tournament, going 121-60 in 52 years and now has eight titles, the most of any team. The drought for the last was a long one, dating back to 2007 when the Eagles last won.

The team with the second most wins in the EHT is Harrisburg at 99-57 and has been in the tournament the last 44 years.

Randy Smithpeters has enjoyed some success that any coach could be in awe of having his Bulldogs play in seven straight championship games from 2009-2015. Harrisburg won four of those times.

It's a moment that Smithpeters looks back on fondly, but not just for himself, but his players -- for the electric atmosphere that the EHT can generate on championship night.

"It's one of my goals every year is for us to be a Final Four team so that our kids can experience the excitement, the electricity, the pressure, because you don't get that anywhere else," Smithpeters said. "You used to get that in postseason play, you don't anymore because the crowds aren't there. You do get that in the EHT. You'll remember those crowds 10, 20, 30 years after coming out of that tunnel and I really emphasize that to our guys because it's something I want them to experience."

While attrition is a byproduct of getting to the championship, Smithpeters also points out how important performance is.

"You can prepare all you want, but you have to perform on game night," he said. "The thing about the EHT is it's so difficult just to win one game, let alone, get to championship. I think there is even a comment in the program about us being a runner-up. It's hard to be a runner-up. We were proud of being a runner-up everyone one of those year's just because it's hard to get to that Final Four and then even harder to win the championship. To win it all, with the format being the way it is, you're going to have to play a hard-nosed team and another hard-nosed team and then another hard-nosed team. That's what you can expect. If you can win after all of that, you've done something right."

Going For Two

While Eldorado is looking for back-to-back trophies, one individual is looking for back-to-back MVP honors. EHS senior forward Braden Attebury will look to join just three other players who have won the tournament's individual top prize after taking home the title last season. The last person to win the MVP twice was Harrisburg's Bahari Amaya in 2013 and 2014 and Cairo's Anthony Webster in 1979 and 1980. Reed Jackson, who was a standout at Norris City-Omaha-Enfield remains the only player to win the MVP three consecutive years in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Current SIU senior guard and former Harrisburg standout Tyler Smithpeters won the MVP twice, but not in consecutive seasons as he won in 2010 and 2012.

Attebury is currently averaging 20 points per game, stands at 896 points for the season and is vying to become the school's 22nd member of its illustrious 1,000 point club.

All-Tournament Returners

Ten players make up the Eldorado Holiday All-Tournament Team and this season, five of those players are back and look to repeat as well.

The list of returning players include Eldorado's Jacob Traxler, Herrin's Bronson Nesler, Gallatin County's Audie Goebel, Carmi-White County's Travis Black and Harrisburg's Isaiah Saulsberry.

Welcome Back

Sayler Shurtz is in his first year as head coach at Herrin, but it's not his initiation into the EHT. Shurtz played his high school basketball at Benton and was a junior in 2006, the last year the Rangers were in the EHT.

Here For A While

Eldorado athletic director Greg Goodley confirmed that the current crop of teams competing in this year's Eldorado Holiday Tournament have all signed contacts through 2019. West Frankfort's contract runs through 2021.