November 21, 2o18
By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
Johnson County’s starting lineup will be loaded with a bunch of “small fries” that are lacking in height but their hoping to “super size” that with a ton of heart, hustle and determination when they take they floor. Head coach Austin Atwood is facing what could be a major rebuilding project after losing senior starters Bud Icenhour, Nathan Arnold, Jordan Edes-King and Sean Lewis off of last year’s 22-11 squad that made it to the first round of the regional tournament.
The Horns starting lineup will feature a quartet of players that are 6’0 and under and their tallest starter is a 6’2 point guard. But that won’t dampen their outlook for the upcoming 2018-19 basketball season. The Longhorns return one of the top players in East Tennessee. Blake Atwood is a four-year starter that is beginning to draw some interest from several colleges. The 6’2 senior point guard averaged 19 points, five assists, four steals and six rebounds per contest last season and he’s grew two inches over the summer.
Atwood played well in the Rocky Top League among some the best high school talent across the state but the Horns will need much more to go along with him in order to have a successful year. Atwood said their still searching to find replacements for last year’s talented team.
“We lost so many good players to graduation,” said Atwood. “You don’t have many senior classes that have talented players like it did. Losing Edes and Arnold inside is definitely going to hurt. Edes probably changed games more than anybody I ever had taking charges and who can replace a shooter like Bud who could score points in bunches. Nathan was a very good rebounder and our best defender. We lost Lewis early but all those guys were three year starters that knew how to play. We had some others like Jimmy Bower who knew his role and did it well. It’s definitely going to be hard to replace that type of production on the court and their leadership. We’ll have to play hard and shoot well. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound and not turn the ball over. We’ll have to box out and try and keep teams off the board. It’s going to be a challenge for everyone.”
Troy Arnold (6’0, Sr.) and Michael Oxentine (6’2, Jr.) will try and hold down the fort on the inside. Luke Rash (6’6, Sr.) and Darren Cunningham (6’3, Jr.) will also likely see some minutes.
“Arnold and Oxentine are undersized but they play much bigger than what they are,” said Oxentine. “We’re hoping Rash can give us some good minutes because he’s lighter than last year and in much better shape. Cunningham is getting stronger and can help us some too.”
Their lack of size could be compensated by some talented guard play. Zack Eller (5’11, Sr.), Gavin Reece (5’9, Sr.) Lucas Phillips (6’0, Jr.) and Atwood can all shoots the lights out from around the perimeter. Atwood knows they’ll have to produce.
“Eller can shoot the ball well and penetrate and so can Reece and Phillips. They’ll have to knock down shots and take care of the basketball. We should be able to push the ball up the floor if we can rebound. Those guys will have to step up and play big for us.”
The bulk of the load will fall on Atwood who will likely see a lot of box in ones and junk defenses. His quickness makes him a nightmare to guard for the opposition. Atwood hopes their size factor can possible be overcome with their quickness on the defensive end.
“This team defends better than a lot of team that I’ve had,” said Atwood. “We’ll have to trap because we can’t man up and let them throw the ball inside. We need to try and score 65 points or more in a game to win. We want to try and wear the opposition down.”
Clayton Cross (5’10, So.) and Zack Winters (5’8, Sr.) will compete for minutes. Playing time will be determined by production.
Atwood tabbed Sullivan East and Elizabethton as the teams to beat with Sullivan South right also in the mix.
“East has a young kid coming in that will be good along with their all their returning players. Elizabethton will be good with their football players returning and South has some talented players also. You can’t ever count out Unicoi County either. We have a good league from top to bottom. You have to come ready to play every night because everyone is capable of beating us.”