If you’re looking for the most impressive local storyline from the first week of the high school basketball season, it would unquestionably be the play of Scott High.
The Highlanders put an exclamation point on their own TSSAA Hall of Fame showcase Saturday evening with an 81-54 win over Oneida that was stunningly thorough. But that game, which saw Scott fall behind early before taking control of the game with 49 points across the second and third quarters, wasn’t even the Highlanders’ most impressive moment of the day. That came earlier in the afternoon, when Scott High put up 29 first points on Campbell County, racing to a 22-point opening period lead against the Cougars.
Through three games — against a Campbell County team that is extremely young but nonetheless a Class AAA program, an Oneida team that won its region championship last year and is an early favorite to repeat as champs this year, and a Class AA Cumberland Gap program that the Highlanders are traditionally evenly-matched against — Scott hasn’t been seriously challenged. A large reason why, obviously, is because Trey Morrow is doing Trey Morrow things. After averaging a double-double as a freshman, making him statistically the best player in the extremely tough District 4-AA, there appears to be no sophomore slump in the works. Morrow has three double-doubles to start the season — 21 points and 12 rebounds against Cumberland Gap, 27 points and 10 boards against Campbell County, and 26 and 10 against Oneida.
But the Highlanders are also shining early because of the play of senior Logan Goodman. The Fairview product had an exceptional freshman season before a devastating knee injury that costed him his sophomore season. He was back last year, but is finally back to 100 percent and it’s showing. He’s averaging 17.5 points per game through the first three games. And while sophomore Luke West played significant minutes in his debut season a year ago, including a few games that he started, he is suddenly looking like the perfect compliment to Morrow at the guard position, especially against Oneida, when he scored 14.
Crazy though it may seem, the Highlanders still aren’t quite 100 percent. Noah Buttram, who also played a significant role as a freshman, is still bouncing back from the broken ankle that he suffered early in the football season.
Following last year’s exhilarating win over Austin-East, Scott High Coach Jordan Jeffers cautioned his team to not let that be the season’s high point. As it turned out, it was; it was the only district game the Highlanders won. It’s likely that Jeffers repeated some version of that message to his team after Saturday’s game. Seldom do teams have wins as thrilling as Scott High’s victory over Oneida before the Thanksgiving holiday has even arrived — but, then, seldom do teams play an inner-county matchup in a standing-room-only gymnasium at the start of the season. Ultimately, the Highlanders’ season will be judged on their results in district play. After all, achieving their “lofty” goals — winning 20 games, hosting a region tournament game — will require some success in district play, likely including some wins over the “big three” of Alcoa, Austin-East and Fulton.
For now, though, the Highlanders’ early-season success has to be a huge confidence boost. In terms of consecutive wins, it’s Scott’s best start to a season since 2015, when they started 5-0. In terms of style points, it’s arguably the best start to a season since Bill Duncan’s solo year in Huntsville, 2010-2011, which also happens to be the last time the Highlanders competed for a district championship.
If there’s one local team that perhaps struggled a bit more out of the gate than would’ve been expected, it would be Oneida. The Indians squeaked out a win against Campbell County on Tuesday, struggled to put First Baptist Academy of Powell away on Saturday, and then struggled against Scott High.
It deserves to be pointed out that Campbell County is an improving team — albeit still a very young one — and FBA, a school that is taking its basketball seriously, did some nice things in the Division II ranks last year; it just struggled for consistency. It wasn’t surprising to see Scott defeat Oneida; Coach Jacob King confided before the season began that the Highlanders would eventually get his team, which had reeled off a series of victories between the two schools in summer camp games and scrimmages over the last two seasons. What was surprising, though, was the extent to which Oneida struggled against the athleticism and aggressiveness of Scott High’s defense.
The question mark for Oneida coming into the season was clearly how well the Indians could replace point guard Chance Botts, who graduated in the spring. And, after one week of play, it’s clear that the Indians miss Botts every bit as much as they expected to. King called him one of the top five point guards to ever play at Oneida, and it’s easy to see why now.
It’s not that Nate Bowling isn’t capable at the PG position. The junior is arguably the best player in District 3-A, and he’s had an outstanding start to the season, averaging almost 23 points through the first three games and scoring 26 in Saturday night’s game against the Highlanders. As King said prior to the start of the season, however, he isn’t starting Bowling at the point guard position because he wants to — but because Bowling is his best option. So far, the Indians have occasionally moved freshman Jeric Huling to the point in order to move Bowling off the ball, and junior Kolby Morgan will play some point when he returns, as well.
Speaking of Bowling, his absence underscores the reason it’s difficult to read too much into Oneida’s start to the season. While Elijah West played in Saturday night’s game, his first game back from football, he did so without having been with the team since summer camps. And Morgan did not play in Saturday night’s game; he was attending a kicking camp in Georgia. When West and Morgan are back with the team and back in basketball shape, things will be expected to change dramatically. West is arguably the Indians’ best defender, while Morgan will present a third primary scoring option for Oneida, along with Bowling and senior big man Dalton Yancey.
There’s a chance the Indians and the Highlanders could meet again at Oneida the week after Christmas, if both win their first games in the Indians’ Christmas tournament. If that happens, it should be a real barn-burner.
Oneida’s Lady Indians entered the 2019-2020 season as the team with the most weight on their shoulders. The Lady Indians advanced to the state tournament last year, and return a senior-laden team that is geared for another trip to Murfreesboro this year. Coach Marv West said before the start of the season that he expects his team to have a bullseye painted on them and to get everyone’s best shot.
It was a good start for Oneida, first dominating Campbell County through three quarters and change before withstanding a late surge by the Cougars for a 3-point win on Tuesday. That’s a game the Lady Indians lost by 21 last year, as Campbell County won 28 games before finishing just a game shy of the sub-state. Granted, it’s a different Cougar team this year, losing Skyler Boshears and several other players to graduation, but it’s still a proud program with lots of tradition.
After dominating First Baptist Academy to start Saturday’s games at Scott High, the Lady Indians hit a brick wall against Bearden, losing 71-38. That’s a game Oneida lost by 26 in the same venue last season.
For the Lady Indians, who struggled mightily against Bearden’s press after scoring the game’s first four points, there was no shame in losing Saturday’s game. Coach Marv West enjoys scheduling tough teams early in the season, looking more towards the growth of his team than wins in the first few weeks of the season. Oneida plays perennial state tournament contender Clarkrange twice each year, and routinely plays up in classification. Bearden returns most of its players from last year’s team, which finished 27-4 in Class AAA basketball.
Kendyl West, one of Oneida’s talented group of seniors, will be expected to lead her team in their quest to return to Murfreesboro, and she’s off to as good a start as could be expected, averaging 15 points through the first three games of the season.
For Scott High’s Lady Highlanders, the biggest question coming into the season was how Coach Jackson Sharp’s team would replace Grace Sexton, their four-year point guard who graduated last spring.
In the most literal sense, of course, Scott knew how it would replace Sexton: junior Callie Carson played some at the point last year, and it’s now her team to run on the floor. But in terms of the offensive production that Sexton brought to the floor, she was the heart and soul of the team the past couple of years, and it was easy to think that the Lady Highlanders wouldn’t replace her points with just one person, but by committee.
Indeed, that appears to be the case through the first three games of the season, as different players have stepped up at different times for the Lady Highlanders. In the season opener against Cumberland Gap, it was Carson, who knocked down 6 of 6 free throws and finished with a game-high 16 points. In a 30-point win over First Baptist Academy on Saturday, it was Julia Butts, who hit three 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 18 points. And against Campbell County in the second game of the day on Saturday, it was Lyndsey Summers, with a career-high of her own, 21 points.
Summers looks more aggressive to start the season, which is not unexpected. She’s a seasoned veteran with a lot of basketball under her belt, and her senior leadership will be key for the Lady Highlanders this season if they are to prove themselves contenders in District 4-AA. Butts showed flashes of offensive promise last season, and also appears to have stepped up her game. In fact, she’s the Lady Highlanders’ leading scorer through the first three games.
Just how balanced has this by-committee approach been so far? After one week of play, Butts is averaging 13 points per game, Carson is averaging 12.7 and Summers is averaging 10.7. As a bonus, another of the Lady Highlanders’ seniors, Tara Sellers, is averaging 8.7 points per game, and scored 10 against Campbell County while going 5 of 5 from the field.