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Home Sports Notebook: Things we're learning as the basketball season takes shape

Notebook: Things we’re learning as the basketball season takes shape

With the pre-Thanksgiving portion of the 2018-2019 basketball season complete, here are a few things that have stood out for local teams: 

• Jayden Thomas is a shooter. That’s hardly surprising. The Oneida senior emerged as one of District 3-A’s best 3-point shooters last season; Lady Indians coach Marv West said prior to the start of the season that she “took over the game at times” in 2017-2018. And if the first handful of games of the 2018-2019 season are any indication, the same is going to be true this season. Thomas has come off the bench through the first five games of the season to prove one thing: If she’s open, there’s a significant chance that she’s going to knock down the shot.

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• Oneida misses Shay Buttram. The Lady Indians won’t get senior guard Shay Buttram back from a knee injury until sometime around Christmas. Buttram emerged as one of Oneida’s better offensive threats this season, and could provide some scoring consistency that the Lady Indians are currently missing if her rehabilitated knee allows. Through the first couple of weeks of the season, Oneida has had several players step up at opportune times, perhaps most notably sophomore Katelyn Stiltner and junior Kendyl West, but has lacked consistency overall on the offensive end. In fact, prior to last week’s 83-point outburst against Jellico, the Lady Indians were averaging just 40.3 points per game. That will undoubtedly change as the season progresses; the Lady Indians are still one of the top teams in District 3-A and will compete for the district championship. A healthy roster will help.

• Young players stand out. It’s hard to remember a freshman from either Oneida or Scott High who has had the start to the season that the Highlanders’ Trey Morrow has had. While there are no redshirts in high school sports, it’s sometimes tempting to call Morrow a true freshman to underscore the fact that he was playing middle school basketball this time last year. Through the first four games of the season, Morrow essentially averaged a double-double — 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds. With no slight intended to Stephen Butts, you would probably have to go all the way back to Kyle Keeton, now the pastor at Black Oak Baptist Church in West Oneida with his own sons who are rapidly approaching their high school playing days, to find a Highlander freshman who made such an immediate impact. Tougher tests will come, for sure; Scott head coach Jordan Jeffers has thrown Morrow to the wolves, so to speak, by giving him the reins of the Highlander offense as point guard. The real challenge will come against the likes of Alcoa, Fulton and Austin-East, each of which will present far more speed and athleticism than any team the Highlanders have faced so far. But, to this point, at least, Morrow looks like he should be a shoe-in for District 4-AA’s freshman of the year award.

• Bowling, too. Eight miles north of Scott High School’s Highlander Gymnasium, there’s another youngster who is making a name for himself early in his high school career. Oneida sophomore Nate Bowling got plenty of varsity minutes as a freshman, and is expected to help carry the load for the Indians this season as they look to compete for the District 3-A championship. Bowling — who was exceptional as a middle school player at Huntsville — is still getting adjusted to the high school game, and it shows at times. But he’s also shown flashes of the potential that his coaches have long known he has. After scoring 20 points in the Indians’ season-opener at Class AAA Campbell County, Bowling knocked down six 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in a win against Jellico last week.

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• Slow-and-steady in District 4-AA. Scott’s Lady Highlanders are off to a 1-3 start to the season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. After a 58-34 win over Oakdale to open the season, the Lady Highlanders’ losses came to a Class AAA Bearden team that will likely be back in Murfreesboro for the state tournament, and two teams that are likely to compete for district championships in Class A — Clarkrange and Wartburg. Scott High showed some flashes of promise against a Lady Buffaloes team that is likely to wind up in the state tournament, and against a Wartburg team that was in the state tournament last year. We don’t know much about District 4-AA, because district play doesn’t begin until this Friday, but we’ll certainly learn a few things in a hurry, as Scott opens with Austin-East. Last season, the Lady Highlanders defeated the Roadrunners to get into the Region 2-AA tournament, and A-E has struggled a bit out of the gate this season. If Coach Jackson Sharp’s team was successful against Coalfield on Tuesday — a game that is certainly winnable — and can follow that up with a win over A-E, they will build some nice momentum as they begin to move into the heart of the schedule. And here’s the thing: While it’s too early to know for sure, the top of District 4-AA, which lost plenty to graduation, has looked far less impressive to start this season than it did to start last season. Kingston has looked the best of the top three teams; Fulton and Alcoa are a combined 2-5 to start the season.

• Highlanders fun to watch. When Scott High cranks up its intensity, as it was able to do against Clarkrange and as it was able to do at times against Wartburg, the Highlanders are an awfully fun team to watch. SHS lacks a strong post game but makes up for it with quickness and athleticism, creating a wide-open game that is enjoyable for spectators. It’s still too early to figure out exactly how District 4-AA is going to play out, though conventional wisdom says that the district’s Big 3 — Fulton, Alcoa and Austin-East, the Knoxville powerhouses — will be tough to topple. But Jordan Jeffers said before the season that his team fully intends to spring an upset against one of those teams, and at times early on the Highlanders have looked like a team that could be poised to do just that. In fact, Scott’s season-opening, 71-40 win at Oakdale — a game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicted — was something of a “whoa” moment. The Eagles lost their top two players — Jackson Hicks and Nathan Arrowood — to graduation after last year’s run to the Region 2-A championship, but they’ve looked much better since that lopsided loss to the Highlanders. In fact, Oakdale defeated Anderson County last week, after only narrowly losing to Carter and a McMinn County that put up 110 points in a single game earlier this season.

• The most improved. As the early season continues to sort itself out, it’s clear that there are some players who have improved their game during the off-season. Perhaps most notable is Scott High senior Bryson Russ. After quietly biding his time for three years, Russ has had some notable moments to begin the season, and is averaging over 13 points per game. He’s also tied with fellow senior Kadon Babb as the team’s assists leader. Jeffers said prior to the start of the season that Russ has worked hard to become a more all-around player, and it has showed early on. Russ had some big moments in the first half against Wartburg last week, and played a key role in the Highlanders’ comeback win over Clarkrange earlier in the season. Other players who have had noteworthy starts to the season as far as improvement from last year include Lady Highlander senior McKayla Babb, who is in her first year as a full-time starter, Lady Highlander junior Lindsey Summers, a first-year starter, Oneida senior Trenton Clark, another first-year starter, and Lady Indian junior Kendyl West.

From The Pressbox is a weekly sports column by Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com.[/s2If]
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