“The guys want to have a special season,” said coach John Dyer. “They’re working toward a special season. We have experience and we have players. We have to continue to be hungry.”
1. Sullivan East
3. Sullivan South
4. Unicoi County
5. Johnson County
6. Sullivan Central
7. Happy Valley
The league coaches expect them to stay hungry, making the Patriots the consensus favorite during media day this past week.
Leading East’s returners are 15-points-per-game scorers Adam Davison, a 6- foot-1 senior, and Dustin Bartley, a 6-2 senior.
“Dustin is a three-year starter who played in the state tournament,” Dyer said. “He’s a good athlete and tremendous shooter. Adam is the point guard, and he’s an excellent shooter. Both are experienced all-conference guards. We expect a lot out of them.”
Other starters are seniors Mason Johnson, Trey Lowe and 6-7 Dayne Davis. Dyer said Eric Hare, Mason Montgomery and Bryson Burgess are also in the mix.
Dylan Bartley, a freshman, is likely to make significant contributions.
“He will play everywhere,” Dyer said. “He has an upperclassman body.”
Scoring depth could make the Cyclones one of the better teams in the area.
“I think we have a lot of people who can score,” said coach Lucas Honeycutt. “We should have more balance from top to bottom.”
Leading the way are Eric Wilson (6-1, Sr.), Parker Hughes (6-1, So.) and Evan Perkins (5-10, Sr.).
“Eric has played since he was a freshman,” Honeycutt said. “He’s so poised. He does everything right. We’ve tried to get him more aggressive each year, and it’s kind of like he has turned the corner to take on more of a scoring role. And we expect Parker and Evan to score the ball. I think Evan will be more consistent this year, and Parker is stronger.”
A key player back in the mix is 6-5 senior Carter Everett, who Honeycutt said hasn’t played big minutes on the varsity since his freshman year.
“We’re excited he was willing to come back out,” the coach said.
Among those in the playing-time mix are Nico Ashley, Bryson Rollins, Christian Price and Corbin Montgomery.
With 5-10 junior Ben Diamond back in the mix from the get-go after an injury-shortened sophomore season, the Rebels figure to be a team that can challenge toward the top.
“We have expectations, and that’s a good thing,” said coach Michael McMeans. “Expectations should be high. I would be disappointed if we didn’t finish toward the top.”
Diamond exploded onto the scene when he returned to the court late in the season last year.
“He’s a 15-points-a-game guy,” McMeans said. “He can create his own shot. He’s smart and crafty and finds a way to get it done.”
Joining Diamond in the starting lineup are Cole Layne (6-0, Jr.), Gannon Chase (6-3, Jr.) and Chase Bowery (6-3, Sr.).
McMeans said Gavin Parker, Luke Pollack, Camden Necessary and Caleb Vaughn will be in the battle for starting spots and heavy playing-time mix.
“Chase and Camden are two big, strong kids,” McMeans said. “They aren’t scared to beat and bang.”
It may not be a jackrabbit start for the Blue Devils, but coach Michael Smith said he has strong hopes for this team.
“I think it’s going to be a learning thing for us,” Smith said. “We had some good success this summer and some good learning moments. We have three or four guys who played a lot last year.”
One of the key players is expected to be Brock Thompson (6-1, So.).
“I hope we’re more spread out versus having one guy, but Brock can flat-out score, no question,” Smith said.
The only returning starter is Gavin Casey, a 6-foot senior who handles the point guard duties.
Also in the scoring mix are Brett Lingerfelt (5-8, Jr.) on the perimeter and Danny Lowery (6-2, Sr.) and Austin O’Dell (6-2, Sr.) from the post.
Smith said others pushing for playing time are Ty Thelen, Nicholas Hensley, Phoenix Holt, Caleb Adkins and Nicholas Lynch.
The Longhorns revolve around 6-2 senior guard Blake Atwood.
“He has definitely put the time in,” said coach Austin Atwood.
Blake Atwood averaged 19 points per game in AAU ball and 17 per contest in the Rocky Top League in Knoxville.
“As far as creating his own shot, he’s as good as I’ve ever had,” Coach Atwood said. “He can defend, and he will have to be one of the better defenders for us.”
The Longhorns were hit hard by graduation, creating opportunities for Zach Eller (5-11, Sr.), Gavin Reece (5-9, Sr.) and Troy Arnold (6-0, Sr.) to play big minutes. Also in the heavy playing-time mix are Lucas Phillips and Michael Oxendine.
Coach Atwood said his team could struggle to score in the post.
“Michael and Troy have to play hard and smart,” he said.
Coach Derek McGhee said he has high hopes for this team but added there are some question marks.
“This team can beat anybody in the league, but if we don’t come to play every night the guys will find other things out fast,” said McGhee, who didn’t back down from scheduling games with Dobyns-Bennett, Tennessee High and Science Hill.
Leading the way is Ben Williams (6-0, Sr.), who is at the point guard position for a fourth season. Adding to the mix is Kaden Duncan, a 6-1 sharpshooter.
“Kaden is one of the best shooters in the area,” McGhee said.
Other key players are Caleb Rose and Jackson Harrison, who is recovering from a football injury. Also in the mix is Trey Rosenbalm, a post player McGhee said lived in the weight room in the offseason.
Garrett Dugger is also pushing for minutes, and freshman Ty Barb could be a key player as the year goes on.
“He’s going to be a special player,” McGhee said. “I’ve never seen anything like he can do.”
The Warriors’ game starts inside with 6-8 senior Bryce Carter.
“What we do offensively will go through him,” said coach Jeremy Maddox. “He does a real good job finding cutters when people double down, and I feel comfortable with him shooting from 15 feet in.”
Carter averaged double digits in scoring and rebounding last season, and is the team’s top returning player.
“I feel good about the guards, but they have to understand the more they get the ball inside, the easier their lives are going to be,” Maddox said.
Other key players include Dakota Cochran (6-0, Sr.), James Harmon (6-3, Jr.) and Blake Young (6-3, So.).
“Blake is really versatile,” Maddox said. “Dakota is a tough-nosed kid, and James gives us size in the post.”
Also in the mix are Noah Stevens, Dylan Willis, Luke Roberts and Will Tittle, who is currently out with an arm injury.
“We’ve got some people in different roles,” Maddox noted. “They’ve been in support roles, but now we need them to do more.”