By Tim Chambers
Playing in a league that features Hampton, Colonial Heights, Unicoi County, and Happy Valley can be though for any junior high basketball team, but the Longhorns of Johnson County Middle School have held their own in 2019.
The team is still standing the junior high Longhorns’ basketball team is still standing tall at the midway point of the season under new first-year head coach Mark McClain. The former Hampton High School head coach has them off to a 7-4 start, including a huge league win over Happy Valley just weeks ago. The team will play a non-league game against Ashe County on Tuesday at home before taking a week off for the Christmas break. It’s surprised McClain of his team’s play after their performance at camps over the summer. “I saw we had some potential, but we were very rough around the edges,’ said McClain, who added the team is starting to buy into the coaching philosophy of his and assistant coach Chris Dunbar’s.
“I think they are starting to believe in what we are doing and really getting after it,” said McClain. “We’re starting to see improvement every time out that they take the floor.”
One improvement was recently against Hampton, where the team played well in a loss.
“They are loaded with
a very good basketball
team,” said McClain about the Bulldogs. “They are
definitely the team to beat in the junior high ranks, and it will take an all-star performance for someone to beat them.
So far, Dalton Pope and 6’2 center Connor Simcox have provided that type of performance for the Longhorns and McClain.
“They both have played very well,” said McClain about his two, team
leaders. Dalton is a great guard who can score by taking people off the dribble. Connor has averaged a double-double in almost every game so far. He’s a big kid that can handle the ball and play on the outside. He is not one of your ‘go down on the box and stand’ type of players. He has good skills that will surprise you for a post player. He could be a great one before he leaves up here. I am always pushing him to the max because I know the potential that he has. It’s all up to him, and he’s a great kid that works really hard and accepts that type
of challenge. His play will only get better as time goes on.”
In a recent game, he put up 25 points and 23 rebounds in a win. Pope has been the vital cog that keeps the team in
the hunt in nearly all their games.
“Dalton is the type of kid that you love to
coach,” added McClain.
“He always wants to work hard to get better, and he gives you 100 percent in all that he does. He’s definitely one of our team leaders.”
Longhorns fans are urged to catch a home game after Christmas. The upcoming schedule has been posted below.
26 – Carter Co. HOF Tourney (26-30) TBD.
3 – at Chuckey-Doak
6 – at Holston Middle
9 – at Hampton
13 – HAPPY VALLEY (Home)
16 – at Blountville *s3 games
(24-31) – at Sullivan Central