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Riverside Tested, Ready for Sugar Bowl Tourney

Riverside Academy head coach Timmy Byrd discusses the tournament with sportsNOLA's Darrell Ashley

Call them the world travelers, if you will. Riverside has played in three tournaments as well as the Naismith Hall of Fame Game in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Tim Byrd's Rebels have played 12 games out-of-state out of 20 heading into the 2nd Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic Basketball Tournament at the Alario Center in Westwego January 19-21.

The Rebels are 15-5 on the season, including 7-0 in Louisiana. Byrd and his team will be happy to unpack their bags to play in a prime event at home, for a change. Riverside is hosting the event for the second consecutive year.

Dating back to his days as the head coach at Reserve Christian, Byrd has won seven state titles in as many seasons and nine in the last 10 years. His legacy is already secure as one of the top basketball coaches in Louisiana history but he gives the credit to others for the success.

"I've been blessed to be at good schools with good people, great players and great opportunities," said Byrd.

Riverside has already played seven top 25 teams in the nation with its extremely challenging schedule.

"We've played more ranked teams than ever," said Byrd. "We were afforded the opportunity to play in many prestigious events and we had to take advantage of it. The only negative is that your team gets injured, gets worn down by the travel and hits the wall."

Riverside lost top guard Louis Dabney to a torn ACL early on. He had surgery and is out for the season. Dabney should be fully recovered by next season. He has signed to play at Tulane University.

Riverside has beaten No. 2 Miller Grove (Georgia) and No. 25 Gil St. Bernards of New Jersey. The Rebels also beat Louisiana power Scotlandville 57-55, ranked No. 21 (MaxPreps) as well for extremely impressive victories.

The Rebels are led by blue chip recruit Ricardo Gathers. The 6'8, 245-pound Gathers is averaging 21 points and 17 rebounds per season. Gathers, who originally committed to St. John's, rescinded that verbal commitment and is now considering St. John's, LSU, Baylor, Duke, Florida and Kentucky. Byrd feels his star continues to progress as a more complete player.

"He's been really focused on his high school season and has really shown improvement in his game all around," Byrd said. "Ricardo works hard at his game and it is obvious to all who watch him play."

Senior guard Donald Thomas (6'7, 190) has visited DePaul, Jacksonville and Florida Gulf Coast College. He is averaging 14 points per game. Senior forward Zelvin Smith (6'4, 210) averages 14 points and 10 rebounds while senior guard Lucas Martin-Julien (6'2, 190) chips in with 11 points per game.

As the tournament host and coordinator, Byrd is bullish on this year's Sugar Bowl Classic.

"I think this is a great field," said Byrd. "Boys & Girls High was ranked in the top 15. When they were mentioned to us to get them in the tournament, we jumped on it. They have great history. Coach Lovelace has been on 60 Minutes. They are one of the top three programs in New York City. It is a coup to get them down here. St. John Bosco's coach (Derrick Taylor) is a great coach who will build a dynasty. They are good, young and talented. Douglass has been the best program in Oklahoma over the last three or four years. Our Louisiana teams are outstanding," said Byrd.

Of course, none have been better than Byrd and Riverside over the past couple of years which all four invaders are keenly aware of heading into the Sugar Bowl event.


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