Last season, the Hampton boys earned a bid to the TSSAA Class A basketball tournament, then had the rug yanked out from under them by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bulldogs are loaded again, plus have one more year of experience. Defending District 1-A tournament champion University High returns all-state guard Kaleb Meredith and should also be considered one of the favorites.
Many coaches believe this season could be one of the deepest the Watauga Valley Conference has seen in quite a while.
First-year Highlanders head coach Tyler Chambers returns seven players from last season, but only two are starters.
Guard Bentley Gilbert and post player Elijah Blair are considered the primary scoring options. Thankfully, the Roan Mountain outfit didn’t have any games scheduled until December because of football, but Chambers noted that the preseason still has been tough because of the ongoing pandemic.
The Bulldogs lost five seniors off last season’s state tournament team but return big names like Conor Jones, Garrett Vines and Morgan Lyons.
Coach Ned Smith said his squad has more depth with 12 or 13 players looking to get playing time throughout the season.
Some others to keep an eye on include Parker Henry, Logan Whitehead and Dalton Holdsclaw.
The Huskies return five seniors, and Sam Tarlton’s squad expects to be right in the thick of the conference race. Senior Kendal Loftis, last year’s leading scorer, returns and is joined by fellow seniors Cayden Foulks, Shane Cooter, Chance Campbell and Carson Whaley.
Junior Cody Fleshour should see big minutes this year along with foreign exchange student Chriss Schultz.
Bryant Herron, Isaiah Pruitt and Jacob Cross return to the lineup for the Golden Raiders’ farewell season.
Coach Travis Cain said the Bloomingdale squad doesn’t have the height of the past few years, but the team is overall quicker.
Other probable starters are Bryson Vance and Josh Lovelace, who will run the point. Players most likely to see action coming off the bench are juniors Chris Watkins, Cornelius Talford and sophomore Thomas Reece.
Prolific scorer Will Sexton is back for his senior year. Unaka returns eight players from last season, making it one of the deeper squads in the conference.
Coach Aaron Dugger said 6-foot-3 senior post Michael Heath assumes big roles in both scoring and hauling down rebounds.
A couple of the other key returners for the Stoney Creek squad are juniors Devin Ramsey and Joseph Slagle.
Going into his senior year, Meredith is sitting on 2,200 career points and should easily pass 3,000 based on his current pace. The Tennessee baseball commit was one of the area’s top performers last season when he averaged more than 25 points per game and helped lead the Bucs to a sectional appearance.
Coach Herman Rice is counting heavily on Ben Vargo and Joseph Kent for both scoring and rebounding.
The Bucs are young with not a lot of returning varsity experience, but Rice is excited about the group.