By Tim Chambers
The middle school boys’ basketball team has a new coach on the bench this year, and he comes in with an impressive resume after having been the head varsity basketball coach at Hampton High School.
Mark McClain will guide the Longhorns, and so far, they look much improved from where they were this time last year.
McClain played his high school basketball for the Bulldogs and scored over 1,200 career points. He played in the state semifinals as a freshman and was All-Conference his junior and senior year. He went on to play college basketball at Tusculum before returning to his Alma Mater as head coach from 2004 through 2007. He compiled over 50 wins in his coaching career, including one sub-state appearance and a runner-up finish in the District and Regional.
He’s happy to be back on the bench and especially as the head coach at Johnson County Middle School. He believes that it’s a perfect fit for him.
“I feel like I am more suited to coach at the level because the kids that I have are eager to learn,” said McClain. “We’ve been working on our fundamentals and especially on how to play defense. We are constantly working on ball-handling, shooting, and defending drills. You have to know how to play before you can ever start running plays.”
McClain realizes how important it is for his kids to know basic skills before moving over to the high school. His goal is to supply the high school a core of good players by being a top-notch feeder program.
“As a high school coach, you want your incoming freshmen to know how to play and for them to have developed some skills. That’s why it’s so important to teach them how to play the right way. The wins will come if you can become a sound fundamental basketball team out on the floor. Our kids are starting to pick it up and are improving every day.”
The junior Longhorns will look to their 6’1 center, Connor Simcox, and point guard Dalton Pope to carry the load.
“A lot of things we do are built around Conner,” added McClain. “He’s our best rebounder, and he’s doing a better job of developing his offense. He can be special, but we’re pushing him to go harder. He’s a hard worker and a very good kid. Dalton is our point guard, and he can score’ He’s one of our best defenders, and he also leads the team. We’re expecting a great deal out of both of them.”
George Grill, James Bowes, and Samuel Greer will round out the starting five.
“George is a tough kid that does all the little things well, especially defending. James is a pretty good shooter and ball handler. Samuel is a kid that has a really good size who can rebound and defend. We think all three can be good players for us.”
A trio of seventh graders will also see some varsity playing time. Kyle Sluder, Eli Dickens, and Jace will all log minutes. Connor Stout, Isaiah Fenner, and Noah Eastridge are eighth-graders who could contribute some depth off the bench.
McClain has beefed up the schedule with several large middle schools on the schedule. He touched on the reason.
“You can’t improve by going out and beating teams that are not very good by 20 or 30 points. We want to play some of the bigger schools to see where we are and what we need to improve on. We want to be where they are.”
McClain said the plan is for his team to focus more on working hard up until tournament time. He knows what it takes to get better.
“I love this group of kids and what I’ve seen so far,” said McClain. “We’ve got a really good seventh-grade group that has some good athletes, and the eighth-grade players are coming on. I can see us being a pretty good basketball team as they gather some experience and play together. I’m happy with where we are now, and I know they’ll get better as the season goes on. We’re going to work hard to become a good basketball team.”