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Horns honing basketball skills against tough opponents

The Johnson County Longhorn Basketball team has had a very successful summer, taking part in several camps that have pitted them against not only some of the best teams in the state but the entire southeastern United States. Excitement has been running high ever since school let out in May, especially since the announcement that the Longhorns have officially been invited to take part in the 2013 Arby’s Classic at Viking Hall in Bristol.
As one of the premier basketball events in the country, only a select few local teams actually get to compete in the tournament. Johnson County has only been invited once in the past 30 years, but with a solid group of returning players, tournament organizers apparently felt that the Longhorns were ready for the challenge.
Setting the pace for the team’s summer training, Coach Austin Atwood has been keen to schedule opponents that will match the quality they might see in December in Bristol. The biggest camp so far has been at the University of Tennessee, where Johnson County played in the upper division against some of the biggest and most talented schools in the region. Remarkably, the Longhorns did well, taking a win in six out of ten games, with a few close match-ups that could have went either way. 
“We went to UT four days and we played all of the big teams out of Nashville, and a lot of teams out of Georgia that were 6A,” Atwood said. “Going into the Arby’s was one reason I had us play in the upper division. It’s a huge deal for us; we’ve not played in it since 1983. We could end up playing a team from the Bahamas, New York, Miami, anywhere. A lot of those teams at UT were Arby’s caliber teams, and we got beat by 20 a time or two, but for the most part we held our own which was encouraging and left a good taste in our mouth. It’s helped our summer go a little smoother.” The UT camp was varsity only, with Atwood taking about eight players. Brian Dempsey, Dalton Timbs, Chase Phillips, J.R. Speed, and Cody Bailey rounded out the top five starters with Patrick South, Morgan Eggers, and Jose Guzman coming in off the bench. With such a small group the team was admittedly lacking in depth, but made up for it in talent and determination. As Coach Atwood pointed out, even playing against schools ten times the size of Johnson County, the Longhorns were still able to excel.
“We played Pebble Brook Georgia, which is a school with about 3000 kids who had not been beaten during the camp,” Atwood said.  “They ended up winning by four but we played right with them, and that game was probably one of the best ones we’ve had. Of course we beat Lenoir City, a team out of Knoxville. We beat them by about 25 and played really well. Those two games really stood out. J.R. and Chase both shot the ball really well in both of those games.”
As the team’s main point guard, Speed had a prominent role in Johnson County’s success at UT. Unfortunately, after playing so many games back to back, a slight knee injury left him unable to be a part of the Longhorn’s second camp of the summer at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Making things worse, many of the teams that were supposed to compete in the camp cancelled or failed to show up, greatly reducing the number of games that Johnson County got to play. Despite these problems, the coaching staff tried to make the best of the situation, scheduling an impromptu extra game on the way home.
According to Atwood, “We went on to South Carolina and played a few games. We didn’t play as well, but JR was hurt and we didn’t get to play him. I just overplayed him in Knoxville and his knee kind of got stiff on him. You’ve got to really watch and not overdo it, but he’s fine now. A lot of the teams cancelled out so we went on up to Cherokee, North Carolina and played one game against Cherokee High School. They have one of the nicest facilities around for sure and that’s one of the reasons we went. I know we didn’t get to play many games but we rented a cabin up in Cherokee and stayed the night. They got to swim a little bit, got to stay up in the mountains and it was just a good experience for the boys.”
With Speed temporarily out of the picture, many of the other players had to help take up the slack. Fortunately, as the coach pointed out, rising senior Patrick South has had a very strong summer and easily transitioned into the lineup. “Patrick is going to be the first guy off the bench,” Atwood said.  “He may go in as a guard, maybe as a post guy. Out of all the guys he almost had the best handling of anybody in Knoxville. He didn’t play near as much as some of those other guys, but he did a super job as far a doing what he is supposed to do and knowing what his role is on our team. I was really pleased with how he did. He definitely will be our sixth man. He is a football guy, number one for sure and I want him to be that. He’s a heck of a football player, and I don’t want to take anything from that, but he had a great summer for us. I wish I had a lot more kids like him.”
Also shining was sophomore Cody Bailey who displayed a lot of talent as a freshman last year and is poised to do even bigger things this year. “Bailey is going to be the key,” said Atwood.  “Right now the fifth man is Bailey. He’s 6’3’’, can shoot that 10 footer, and defensively he did a lot better than I ever thought he would. He’s at the point right now that I thought he would be around Christmas. He did a great job defensively. J.R., Chase, Dalton, and Brian are going to be pretty good if they can stay healthy, but Bailey is going to have to be able to come in and give us some good minutes early.”
Like Bailey, junior player Chase Phillips also started out as a talented freshman and is now poised to be one of the team’s top scorers despite health issues last season that cost him some time on the court. “If Chase hadn’t got hurt last year he would have turned a few more heads because he was playing well,” Atwood said. “He had to miss so many games, but I believe he will be back this year. He has some things to prove, but he is just a really good player, very talented. Its hard on some kids to be that talented early, but he feels it and I think he will be able to come out this year and have a very solid season.”
If there was one positive to Phillip’s absence, it was the extra pressure it put on players like Dalton Timbs to improve their own games. Timbs is now going to be counted on both offensively and defensively. According to Atwood, “One of the things we tried to work on this summer was with Dalton. He’s got to score and take a leadership role. The games we played really well Dalton was a big part of that. Dalton is just such a good kid, he’s just got to find that niche for himself, and be a little meaner.”

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