By Tim Chambers
Trying to replace last year’s senior quartet could prove to be a difficult task for head coach Austin Atwood and his Longhorns. Gone off last year’s squad is King University guard Blake Atwood along with sharp-shooting guard Gavin Reece, defensive specialist Zack Eller, and the blue-collar MVP Troy Arnold.
They orchestrated a record of 50-18 over the past two seasons in addition to reaching the sub-state last year, bowing out at Knoxville Fulton 90-76, who went on to finish runner-up in the state tournament.
Head coach Austin Atwood knows that he has a difficult task at hand in trying to develop a team that can compete in the tough Three Rivers Conference. He touched on what it will take and those that he is counting on to contribute.
“You can say we’re in a rebuilding mode,” said Atwood with a chuckle. “We had three good years with that group of seniors, and those guys are hard to replace. They were great friends, great teammates and gave our fans a good run, but now we’re faced with trying to reload. We have a couple back off that team, and these guys want to build on that. We’re not going to be very good early, but we got a chance to be ok late and be able to compete. We’re not going to be very deep, and we will have to stay injury-free. When you coach in a small town, you are going to have years where you’re rebuilding, but the guys we have are competitors. We’re hoping to turn a few heads by late January or early February.”
The Longhorns return a starter and one part-time starter off of last year’s squad that will help lead the way. Seniors Lucas Phillips (6’0, G) and Michael Oxentine (6’3, F) are the two mainstays while senior Darrin Cunnningham (6’3, C) and junior Clayton Cross (6’0, G) will play a key role. They too logged some varsity minutes.
“You have to look to your seniors for leadership,” said Atwood. “Lucas and Michael have the most experience, but Darren and Clayton played a little too. We’re counting on Lucas and Michael to score, but Darren will need to rebound and Clayton to defend because he’s a lot like Eller was for us last year. He doesn’t anticipate as good yet, but he’s quick and gets into the passing lanes. We were hoping to have Zack Parsons (6’0, F, So), but he’s got an injury and probably won’t be back until around or after Christmas. We want to see what he can do.”
Phillips said that he and Oxentine learned a great dead from last year’s senior “Fab Four.”He plans on trying to take that and build on it.
“We’re looking to use what we learned from those seniors and try and make it better,” added Phillips. “We’re wanting to following in their footsteps, but we lacking depth. We have to develop some more players. I believe our team will play hard, and we’ll surprise some teams too as we get to play more together.”
Atwood said that guys like juniors Trevor Gentry (6’1, F) and Ethan Bower (5’8, G) would need to step up and play. They also have freshman Peyton Pavusek (5’11, F) and sophomore Gavin Ward (5’11’ G).
Oxentine said the team is eager to show others what they can do despite their lack of experience.
“We are definitely ready for our senior year because we’re still hungry from last year,” added Oxentine. “We were only one game away from making the state tournament. We know that it is all about being ready to play by tournament time. We want to show everyone what we can do. I believe that we will
surprise some people along the way.”
Atwood tabbed Sullivan South as the team to beat along with Elizabethton.
“South will be loaded because they have everyone back from last year. Elizabethton will be right there with them once the football boys get back. I think Sullivan East and Unicoi will also have good teams because they all have some very good players back. It’s going to be a tough league where you have to play well every
night. We’ll have our hands full whenever we take the court.”
Johnson County High School
Boys and Girls Basketball Schedule 2019-2020
21 at Volunteer (Varsity Girls & Boys)
22 Hall of Champions (at Johnson Co.) Boys only
23 Hall of Champions (at Johnson Co.) Girls and Boys
26-30 Hardees Classic Tourney at Crockett (Girls only)
6 SULLIVAN SOUTH
9 at Cloudland
10 DAVID CROCKETT
13 HAPPY VALLEY
17 at Hampton
20 at Sullivan Central
23 UNIVERSITY HIGH
26-30 Christmas Tourney at Fort Chiswell, Va. (Boys only)
2 at Holston, Va. (girls only)
10 at Sullivan East
13 at Unaka
17 at Unicoi
21 at Sullivan South
24 at Happy Valley
28 SULLIVAN CENTRAL
31 at Elizabethton
4 SULLIVAN EAST
7 UNICOI COUNTY
13 at University High
14 at David Crockett
District Tournament at Sullivan East Feb. 19 though the 25.
Regional Tournament site to be determined Feb. 28 through March 5