SHOWDOWN TIME: Rambeau brothers, No. 16 Academy battle No. 17 Franklin in Region III quarterfinal
BEES BROTHERS: Senior power forward Tanner Rambeau (right) and junior guard Trae Rambeau are multiple-season standout players for Academy, whose 16th-ranked Bumblebees (19-7) battle No. 17 Franklin (18-3) in a Class 3A Region III quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lorena High School. The third-round playoff showdown will be the two programs' first matchup this season but their sixth in the last three seasons. A four-year starter for head coach James Holt, Tanner Rambeau was District 20-3A Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, 19-3A's Most Valuable Player as a sophomore and first-team all-district last season. Trae Rambeau has been an effective all-around reserve player the last two seasons and earned honorable mention all-district status as a sophomore. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Brothers Tanner and Trae Rambeau are very similar in some ways.
Both are multiple-season standout players for the Academy boys basketball team, and both have battled through significant left leg injuries this season to help the No. 16-ranked Bumblebees win their third consecutive District 19-3A championship and reach their third straight Class 3A Region III quarterfinal.
In other aspects, though, the Rambeau brothers are quite a bit different. For example, Tanner favors a shaggy hairstyle while Trae opts for a decidedly curly look.
Tanner is a senior power forward and four-year varsity starter – he was the 20-3A Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and 19-3A's Most Valuable Player as a sophomore – who uses the strength of his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body to bully smaller opponents for close-range baskets and rebounds. He's also a successful defensive end in football and earned academic all-state recognition following his senior season.
Two full years younger than Tanner, the 6-1, 175-pound Trae Rambeau is a sturdy junior shooting guard who's come off the bench in his first two varsity seasons – he was an honorable mention all-district selection last year – and boosted Academy with his blend of outside shooting and aggressive, athletic play at both ends of the court. He played football until a serious arm injury in eighth grade steered him away from the gridiron.
One thing the Rambeau brothers certainly have in common is the desire to make sure that Academy's Region III quarterfinal against No. 17 Franklin won't be the final game they get to play together.
Riding a 12-game winning streak, the Bumblebees (19-7) will battle the 20-3A champion Lions (18-3) – winners of 17 straight games – in a highly anticipated third-round showdown at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lorena High School. It will be the first Academy-Franklin game this season but the teams' sixth clash in the last three seasons, including four district duels and one tournament matchup.
With both Rambeau brothers playing key roles, Academy has compiled 49 wins – highlighted by a 26-0 district record – during the last two seasons. They'd love to rack up victory No. 50, simply for the fact that they'd get to play at least one more game together in next week's Region III semifinal against the winner of Saturday's quarterfinal between No. 7 New Waverly (25-1) and No. 21 Hitchcock (24-3).
“It's been pretty cool, but it's been nothing new. I've grown up always playing with him on select teams and all that stuff,” Tanner Rambeau said Friday afternoon about sharing the court with Trae, the youngest of his three siblings. “So it hasn't been anything different, but it's cool to experience.”
Trae said his brother has steadfastly encouraged him to stay focused and give maximum effort.
“It's been good. He's always pushed me to do my best,” Trae said, sitting next to Tanner after the Bees finished a practice at their home gym, The Hive. “He'll see me not going 100 percent and he'll always get on me and make sure I'm doing my best.”
One thing that Academy fifth-year head coach James Holt has been impressed by and appreciated from the Rambeau brothers this season is the tough-minded way they've battled through injuries to continue to perform well.
Trae said he began to experience left knee discomfort one week before practice began last fall. He's worn a brace on it and been bothered by the ailment to varying degrees throughout the season.
“I was in the gym jumping and stuff and I felt a knot under my knee. It just affected because I can't put pressure on it and jump as high as I (normally) can,” said Trae, who turns 17 in March. “It hurts (to dunk now). I've got to stretch a lot before. (But) I have adrenaline in the game.”
Tanner Rambeau's major injury occurred Dec. 30 during Academy's second district game at Caldwell, where he suffered a badly sprained left ankle and was in severe pain before he had to be carried off of the court.
“It was bad. I was pretty scared at first, because I had never really rolled it before,” said Tanner, who turns 19 next month. “It blew up pretty bad and it took about two weeks for me to be able to actually put weight on it to be able to walk.”
However, Academy's four-year inside force missed only one game, a 77-74 overtime home loss Jan. 5 against 4A state-ranked Waco La Vega, which is still alive in the playoffs. Holt probably would have preferred for Tanner to take his time while recovering from the ankle sprain, but the burly senior saw things differently. He was back in the lineup Jan. 8 for the Bees' district game against Florence.
“Coach Holt definitely wanted me to stay out for some of the district games, because we're obviously one of the better teams in our district and he didn't think that it was worth me playing. But I was like, 'It's my senior year. I don't want to miss a district game,'” said Tanner, who's worn a brace on the ankle after the injury. “I missed one (non-district) game. I was in a hurry (to get) back. I was really slow at first. The strength has been coming back slowly but surely, but the flexibility's still not there. I still have to stretch it.”
Said Holt about the Rambeau brothers playing through injuries: “I think (they're gutting it out) a little bit, but once you get going in the game and the adrenaline's going, unless it's just a really major injury I think you kind of forget about it and just get going. I think Tanner really wanted to make sure he played every district game. The La Vega game this year may be the only game he's missed in four years, so he's played in a ton of games and he wants to play in every game.”
While Tanner Rambeau has been one of Academy's centerpiece players for four consecutive seasons, Trae Rambeau has had to make his presence felt in an off-the-bench, sixth-man type of role the last two seasons after playing junior varsity ball as a freshman. He's a skilled 3-point shooter and is capable of scoring in double figures in any game, yet on some nights his contributions come in other ways.
He scored only two points in Academy's 59-37 area-round demolition of Scurry-Rosser on Wednesday in Buffalo (it led 48-12 in the third quarter), but he sent his teammates and the Bees' fans into a frenzy by stepping in and sacrificing his body to draw two charging fouls.
“You're just appreciative of that, but I think we have 10 guys like that. All of our starters on another team would have a bigger role,” said Holt, who brings another talented junior guard off the bench in explosive jumper Chris Preddie. “Tanner would be averaging 20 points on some teams. (Senior wing) Jaylin McWilliams might be averaging 20 points. (Junior point guard) Darion Franklin might be averaging 20 points. (Senior shooting guard) Jerry Cephus could.
“They all could average more, but for us to be as good as we can be, I think we've got to be balanced. If you're scouting us, you can't say, 'Hey, if we take away this guy, we're going to win.' Because if you take away Tanner, then Jaylin and Darion might beat you. If you take away Jaylin, then Tanner, Darion and Jerry might beat you. We want to be balanced. Coming from my background, when we had the most success, that's what it was.”
Versatile senior guard Kollin Mraz completes Academy's starting lineup and is another player whose all-around game outweighs his scoring totals. Trae Rambeau said he and Preddie – who most likely would be go-to starters on any other team in the Bees' district – have remained focused this season on making the most of their reserve roles.
“Chris and I, we always have energy coming off the bench and we always hype each other up before we go in. We embrace it and we know our role,” said Trae, who admitted that he's looking forward to becoming a starter in his senior season. “I'm excited for next year. I feel like it's going to be fun. Chris is going be stepping up and we're going to have more of a role. That'll be fun and we're going to be a good team.”
Said Holt about the prospect of increased roles for Trae Rambeau and Preddie next season: “They'll have probably more opportunity, and that more opportunity is going to lead to more shots and more points. When it's their turn, they'll be ready for that moment.”
Rugged senior forward Tyler Lambert, sophomore wing Scout Brazeal and sophomore point guard Cole Shackelford bolster the quality of Academy's depth off the bench.
Trae Rambeau said it was his decision to stop playing football as an eighth-grader in 2017 after he came down hard on his left arm while trying to catch a deep pass at practice and broke his ulna and radius bones, requiring surgery.
However, after watching his brother – who initially did not plan to play football as a senior – and the Bees compete in the 3A Division I playoffs this past fall, Trae said, “I'm wanting to come back (to play football) next year.”
POINT-BLANK PRODUCTION: Academy senior power forward Tanner Rambeau (25) rises to score a close-range basket as junior guard Trae Rambeau (far left), his brother, looks on during the 16th-ranked Bumblebees' 70-43 win over Teague in a Class 3A bi-district playoff game last Saturday in Riesel. The Rambeaus will seek to help Academy (19-7) advance past No. 17 Franklin (18-3) in Saturday's Region III quarterfinal at 3 p.m. in Lorena. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Neither Tanner nor Trae was the first Rambeau to excel as an Academy basketball player. Tylor Rambeau, the eldest of their two older sisters, was a standout athlete for Academy and went on to play basketball for Schreiner University in Kerrville. She now teaches in Academy ISD and coaches girls middle school athletics.
Combining high-percentage shooting in the low post with tenacious rebounding, Tanner Rambeau earned the 19-3A MVP award as a sophomore after helping Academy's 2018-19 squad win 25 games and reach the Region III quarterfinals.
Last season he had to settle for first-team all-district recognition as high-scoring teammate McWilliams captured the 19-3A MVP honor as a junior. Rambeau likely will add his third straight first-team all-district selection this season, with McWilliams and Franklin also contending to be voted 19-3A's MVP.
“As long as it's another guy from Academy, I'm fine with it,” Tanner said with a grin.
Tanner Rambeau also is a high achiever academically – he ranks in the top 6 percent of his senior class with a 4.7 grade-point average – and until very recently planned to attend Texas A&M and leave his athletic days in the past. However, he said he's now hungry to extend his football and/or basketball careers, with Mary Hardin-Baylor and Tarleton State among his potential options. He said he might still attend A&M and attempt to make the Aggies' football team via the walk-on route.
“Now I'm actually trying to play somewhere. I changed my mind since I realized that the amount of games I'm going to be able to play is shortening. I don't want to stop playing,” Tanner said. “I'm trying to play at UMHB or see if I can walk on maybe at a larger school. I've thought about walking on at A&M. I've definitely thought about walking on at Tarleton State. I'm going to be paying for school anyway.”
Not surprisingly, Trae Rambeau also aspires to keep playing beyond his Academy career.
“I haven't thought about college too much, but it's definitely a thought,” he said. “I'd love to go play after high school.”
In third straight Region III quarterfinal, Academy
expects stiff challenge from talented Franklin crew
When Holt looks at the Franklin team that Academy will play Saturday afternoon, he sees a Lions squad that bears a strong resemblance to his Bees group.
“I think they're a little similar to us in the fact that they want to play fast and they want to try to turn you over, which is a big part of our defensive philosophy,” said Holt, whose team allowed an average of 40 points in blowout playoff wins over Teague and Scurry-Rosser. “They're guard-oriented. They don't have an inside presence like Tanner, but they have guys that finish around the basket really well. They may not post up as much as we might, but they're really good at getting into the paint and finding that post player and then he finishes.”
Senior forward Seth Spiller scored 12 points Wednesday in Franklin's 61-51 area-round win over West, which led 35-26 at halftime before the resurgent Lions outscored the Trojans 35-16 in the second half.
Franklin went 14-0 in 20-3A competition, capping that perfect run when sophomore forward Bryson Washington scored a putback basket at the buzzer to give the Lions a 52-51 victory against Crockett.
It was Crockett that eliminated Academy from the Region III quarterfinals in 2019 and 2020, both times in physical, intense battles at College Station A&M Consolidated.
Tanner Rambeau scored eight points in the Bees' 50-41 loss to Crockett two years ago. Last year the Bulldogs snapped Academy's 20-game winning streak by prevailing 58-52 for their 22nd straight win on a night when foul trouble hounded both teams. McWilliams scored 22 points before fouling out and Franklin had 17 as the Bees' stellar season concluded at 30-7.
Academy isn't facing Crockett yet again in the third round this season; the Bulldogs are on the other half of the Region III bracket and take on No. 14 Lorena – which edged the Bees 52-44 in overtime on Dec. 11 – in a quarterfinal Saturday.
Instead, Academy will tangle with a surging Franklin team that hasn't lost since Dec. 29, when 4A state-ranked Waco Connally clipped the Lions 71-69. That remains Franklin's only setback since several of its best players returned from football after helping the Lions reach the 3A Division II state championship game, in which Canadian edged them 35-34.
Tanner Rambeau said the experience he and many current teammates absorbed in those regional quarterfinal wars against Crockett should help Academy handle the high-stakes pressure Saturday as the Bees strive to finally overcome their third-round hurdle against dangerous Franklin.
“Those were single-digit games (vs. Crockett), both of them. It's just the atmosphere,” he said. “We know how important a high-value, deep-round playoff game is and what it feels like and how tense it can be.”
Said Trae Rambeau: “Last year I was kind of nervous in big games, but this year I definitely know what I need to do. I embrace it and it's fun.”
All five Academy starters and seven of its 10 core players also were football standouts, and Franklin's gridiron-to-hardwood stalwarts include Spiller, Washington and three juniors: point guard Marcus Wade Jr., swingman Malcom Murphy and forward Hayden Helton. Spiller and Washington were first-team selections on the Texas Sports Writers Association 3A All-State Team.
Holt said the highly skilled Wade – who plays quarterback in football – has missed the Lions' first two playoff games with a knee injury but that Academy is prepared for the three-year standout guard to play in Saturday's duel.
“They're athletic, they can go get rebounds and they can get to the basket, so we've got to do a good job guarding the ball, being in help (defense) and helping the helper with the second and third lines of defense,” Holt said about Franklin, adding that he expects the Lions – coached by Franklin graduate Jake Russ – to apply consistent pressure defense and employ a variety of zone looks along with standard man-to-man.
"Franklin presses the whole game in the games that we've seen them. They'll switch it up and try to keep you on your toes. We're prepared for everything,” Holt said. “The good thing is we've got such a veteran team that we've seen pretty much any defense. We're used to it. And if you want to keep winning in the playoffs, you've got to be able to win different styles of games.
“You try to simulate as much as you can. We're playing a team that runs a zone (defense). It's hard for us to get a good look at the zone (during practice), because we don't run a zone. When we try to run a zone to show what they're doing, we're not as good as the other team is going to be that runs that.”
Said Tanner Rambeau about Franklin: “They have a bunch of fast guards. That's really their M.O. – fast guards getting into the lane, getting layups and getting offensive rebounds.”
Academy swept Franklin in two 19-3A matchups last season (62-59 and 49-38), but that came after the Lions charged back from a 19-point halftime deficit to deal the Bees a stunning 58-57 defeat at the Ben Wheeler Martin's Mill tournament in December 2019.
“We just peed the bed,” Tanner Rambeau recalled with disgust.
“We have to block out. That's kind of what happened last year – we didn't do the little things,” Trae Rambeau said regarding Academy's tournament stumble against Franklin. “If you don't do the little things, they're definitely going to poke at it and get ahead.”
The Bees are 39-1 in district games during the last three seasons, but the Lions were responsible for that lone loss, 37-30 at Franklin in February 2019. Academy went a combined 3-2 against Franklin in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but although all five games were spirited battles, none of them included the pressure of knowing that the season would end for the losing team.
That all changes Saturday afternoon when the battle-tested Bees and Lions knock heads in Lorena.
“We know and the kids know that (Franklin) can beat us,” Holt said. “They've done it the last two years.”
A veteran of eight previous postseason games, Tanner Rambeau said Academy enters its showdown against Franklin with a focused, winning attitude as the Bees seek that elusive berth in the regional semifinals.
“We think that we're one of the best teams in the state, and we have to go in there knowing that we can beat them,” Rambeau said. “But you have to respect who you're playing.”