By Tim Chambers
One of the areas most respected and successful high school basketball coaches spent the 2016-17 season as an assistant coach and observer on the sidelines for Johnson County. That role changed dramatically on Tuesday.
Leon Tolley was selected by school officials as the new girls’ head basketball coach according to Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox . He replaces Thomas Wampler who will remain in the system as a teacher.
Tolley was a standout player at Hampton High School where his team reached the championship games during his sophomore and senior seasons.
He was named MVP of the state tournament in 1983, the only time a player has ever been selected from the losing team.
He averaged 15 points per game and was tabbed to the All District, All Region, All Conference and All Northeast Tennessee teams.
His coaching resume is just as impressive.
Tolley averaged 21 wins per season in his seven years as head coach at Hampton. His Lady Bulldogs compiled an overall record of 156-81.
He took the Dogs to a pair of state tournaments in 2009 and 2013 and his 2009 team recorded the school’s first ever win in girls basketball at the state.
During his seven seasons he won three conference titles, two Districts, one Regional and appeared in two sub-states.
His quest is to try and rejuvenate a program that hasn’t made the Regional tournament in almost 15 years.
He’ll start the rebuilding process with some promising players. The incoming sophomore class is talented. The juniors and senior players will have gained some valuable varsity experience and a few freshmen could surge into the lineup.
But things will be different according to Tolley when he sits down and makes out his itinerary.
“It definitely helps me to have watched all the kids play,” said Tolley. “But things are going to be a little bit different next year. Right now we don’t need to scrimmage anybody. We’ve got to get in the gym and work. They are going to learn their expectations and how I want things done. They’re going to learn how to play the right way. If we can get to the point where we can scrimmage somebody then we’ll find us a camp or two and go.”
Tolley overhauled a Hampton program that struggled after the departures of head coaches Doug Phillips and Leslie Campbell. He shared some things he’ll be trying to implement.
“We are going to play fundamentally sound and with effort,” said Tolley. “You can have a bad day shooting but you should never have a bad day effort wise. I am sure they can all play harder than they did this year. I think they all will admit to that.”
The new head coach observed the varsity players but he also saw some budding junior varsity and freshman players too. Some of those never got an opportunity to play at the varsity level. He noted that all that is about to change.
“Everyone will be on an equal playing field when we start,” added Tolley. “I don’t see freshman, sophomore, junior or senior when kids take the floor. I’m looking at players and athletes because we are trying to build a successful program. Everything will be earned and not given.”
Tolley touched on what he’s looking for in a player.
“I want somebody who wants to be coached and that’s going to give me all that they’ve got. If you are not a scorer then you can be a defender or a rebounder. No two kids are the same but everyone can play hard.”
The Lady Longhorns defeated only two TSSAA schools during Wampler’s tenure. They knocked off Sullivan North twice and Sullivan South on homecoming night. North never won a conference game and the Lady Rebels placed fifth.
“You are going to play good teams night in and night out,” said Tolley. “That’s a given, but our first goal is to be competitive. We want to make teams have to prepare for us. When we become competitive then we can start trying to win these ball games. But it just doesn’t happen overnight.”
Tolley added he was thankful for the opportunity that had been passed down to him. He vowed to give his best.
‘I look at this as the ultimate challenge,” said Tolley. “I’ve always wondered if building a good girl’s program here could be done. We will give it our best shot and I promise that no team will outwork us. It’s definitely going to take a lot of hard work from all of us.”