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After thrilling 2019-2020 season, Highlanders look to take another step forward in 2021

Scott High’s 2020-2021 varsity squad includes, from left: Senior Cash Tucker, junior Trey Morrow, sophomore Gray Todd, sophomore Brady Strunk, junior Brayden Brumett, sophomore Scott Jeffers, junior Dalton Pruitt, senior Eli Storey, junior Luke West, senior River Gray, junior Joe Potter, senior Trevor McCartty and sophomore Kayleb Woodward. Not pictured are junior CJ Bodwell and sophomores Austin Crabtree and Zander Morrow | Photo: Josh Shoop/Shoopshots Photography.

HUNTSVILLE — Last season, Scott High started 18-0 and was state-ranked in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history, which saw the Highlanders’ season end at 24-7 with a narrow loss to Fulton in the Region 2-AA semifinals.

This year, Scott could be even better and the record not show it. The Highlanders have dialed up what might be the toughest schedule in school history, beginning with games against Sevier County and Webb this week.

“I think this year’s team will be different,” Scott High coach Jordan Jeffers said. “I do think there’s some things we can be better at. I’m hesitant to say we’ll be better, just because our schedule is a little tougher this year. (But) I do think the ceiling for this year’s team is higher.”

The tough schedule is due to a couple of different factors. One is difficulty scheduling games. A funny thing happens when you start to win at a high level: teams become reluctant to play you. But the other part of the equation is a desire by the Highlander players to face tougher teams.

“Trey and Cash and Luke and those guys, they wanted to play a tougher schedule. They came and said that to me,” Jeffers said.

Scott High’s success — especially against a schedule that is so loaded — will depend on replacing the offensive production of Logan Goodman. He wasn’t the only senior the Highlanders lost to graduation, but his offensive prowess was central to the Highlanders’ success last year; he averaged 18 points per game.

Making up the difference will start with junior Trey Morrow — everything starts with the Highlanders’ Mr. Basketball candidate — but will include several other players, as well.

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“Last year, Trey shared the scoring load with Goody,” Jeffers said. “This year, we’ll have to ask him to do more scoring, if that’s possible. We’re going to ask him to be more aggressive, to shoot the ball more, and we’d like for him to have double-digit games where he scores in the 30s. For us to maintain our level of success, he has to be able to score it like that, and we think he can. He’s really stretched his game.

“Most of all, we just need Trey to be who he is, and that’s pretty dadgum good,” Jeffers added.

Senior Cash Tucker — the vocal leader of this year’s team — will also play a pivotal role. He had a break-out year as a junior and, while he was one of the team’s best defenders, he also scored at a moderate clip. This year, the Highlanders would like to see him push his average to as much as 15 points per game.

“He’s added to his game,” Jeffers said. “He’s shooting at a higher level, his handle is a lot better. The game has kinda slowed down for him. Last year we could just rely on him to be a great defensive player and rebound and be an energy guy. This year we need him to take a step and help us offensively.”

Another senior, Eli Storey, will also factor heavily into the equation. He’s proven himself plenty capable by having some high-scoring games at the JV level, and after biding his time he’s ready to step into an impact role.

“Eli will surprise some people,” Jeffers said. “He’s quick, extremely aggressive on the offensive end, and can score it in bunches. We really think he’ll surprise some teams with his offensive ability.”

Junior Luke West will help make up the lost offensive production, as well. He averaged nine points per game last season, but could also be a 15-points-per-game scorer this season.

“He shoots well from three, he’s an unbelievably good on-ball defender, even though he’s undersized, and we want him to be able to play with confidence in a real game that matters just like he does at practice,” Jeffers said. “Because at practice, most days he’s the best player on the floor. If he can relate that to a big game here on a Friday night in front of a home crowd, he’ll help us be a really good basketball team.”

A number of other players will factor into the rotation as well, including seniors Trevor McCarty and River Gray.

McCarty played some minutes last year and will be called upon more this season in the Highlanders’ front court. He will play the same position Goodman played last year, even though he’s a much different player.

“He’s turned into a good basketball player and we think he’s going to help us a lot,” Jeffers said of McCarty.

Gray rejoined the team this season, and will immediately add another dimension for the Highlanders.

“He had a good summer,” Jeffers said. “He shoots it really well, he plays hard, and it seemed like this summer the game had slowed down for him.”

First off the bench for the Highlanders will be junior Dalton Pruitt and sophomore Gray Todd.

Pruitt is a backup point guard who can help take some of the ball handling load off Morrow.

“He’s an undersized guy but he plays with a chip on his shoulder, he competes, he plays hard and he plays with a lot of heart,” Jeffers said. “We think we can rely on him to play a good amount of minutes.”

Todd is a post player who is similar to Tucker in size and physicality.

“He’s kinda like a baby deer,” Jeffers said. “We’re trying to get his legs to catch up to his body, but he shoots it pretty good and he’s a really good pick-and-roll guy.”

Other juniors who could see minutes this year include Joe Potter, Brayden Brumett and CJ Bodwell.

Potter played a little varsity ball last year, and will have opportunities to get on the floor this year. Brumett is healthy for the first time in his high school career going into the season, and that could be a big bonus for the Highlanders. He’s a versatile player who can play any of the five positions on the floor. Bodwell is a post player, who Jeffers says is as good as anyone on the team at running the offense and understands what is going on.

Other sophomores could steal a few minutes, as well. The deep sophomore class includes Kayleb Woodward, Brady Strunk and Scott Jeffers.

Woodward is the biggest player on the team — “something you can’t coach,” Jeffers said — and will get on the floor just because of his size. Strunk excites Jeffers, who said Strunk will get onto the floor simply because of his competitive nature. Jeffers is the Highlanders’ top player in the weight room, and adds a capable option defensively while also being a good shooter.

Other sophomores, who Jeffers said might be a year away from significant varsity minutes, are Austin Crabtree and Zander Morrow. Both are Fairview products, who are similar in what they bring to the team. “They’ve gotten better this summer and we’re glad to have them in our program,” Jeffers said. “They just keep working.”

This year’s Scott High team is the most athletic team Jeffers has ever coached — and “it’s not even close,” he said. In fact, among the things that the Highlanders will do better this year than last year is defend. Every player on the court can defend any position on the court, and every player can get up and down the floor in a hurry. McCarty, the Highlanders’ post player, is good enough to step out and guard an opposing team’s point guard.

“Our guys have gotten better,” Jeffers said. “We’ve made a commitment to getting better. I don’t know if I’d say we’re better (than last year), but I think we can be.”

One thing Jeffers is waiting for is to see if this team is as committed as last year’s team.

“Last year’s team was hungry,” he said. “We had gotten beat for a long time. They were hungry. This year’s team, they work really hard (but) we just don’t know how hungry they are. Are they willing to put the work in to get the success that team last year got? You don’t deserve to win games this year just because you were good last year. Will this year’s team be focused enough and work hard enough and be hungry enough to chase success like that team last year? We’ve yet to know that. I think we’ll find out a lot on November 17 (against Sevier County).”

The tough schedule shows itself straight out of the gate. Sevier County, which visits Huntsville on Tuesday, is good enough to beat the Highlanders “by double digits” if Scott doesn’t show up to play, Jeffers said. Then Webb rolls in Saturday morning with a team that is expected to be even better than the Spartans team that won a state championship in Division II two years ago.

“Even if we lose some games early, and we may lose a lot of them, we think we’ll be able to keep this team together and have a successful year, even if our record doesn’t look as good as last year,” Jeffers said. “Because I’ll say this: Our record looked good last year. And our guys had a blast. But when we came home after losing to Fulton in the region semifinals, we had zero trophies, zero banners, zero to show for it. We won a lot of games, but that was it. These guys want to be remembered just not by how many games they won, but by how many banners they brought back to Scott High School.”

Among all of the notable teams on the schedule, there’s something else on the schedule, too: At the end of it are the dates for the 2021 basketball state tournament in Murfreesboro. It’s the first year Highlander fans have seen those dates on the schedule, and Jeffers said that is by design.

“We want to be playing basketball when other players and coaches are paying to watch,” he said.

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