By Joel Clinger for The Robertson County Connection
Just like that, football season is over. Basketball season is here.
Games have started, and teams have another opponent this season other than the people in the different-color jerseys.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down last season just before the state basketball tournament, and as shocking as that was, it may be more surprising that we are still dealing with it eight months later.
Quarantines and cancellations have already taken place for some teams. Teams will be trying their best to stay clean and pull off a season with as little interruption as possible.
But for now, games are being played, and teams have done their best to prepare.
Here is a look at each of the six Robertson County-area teams and what each may look like this season:
Perhaps no team was hit as hard by the pandemic as the East Robertson Indians. The team advanced to the state tournament, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all postseason basketball after that game.
“It was a pretty big hit,” head coach Kurt Caton said. “They worked hard to get there, and then it just kind of pulled the rug out from under them.”
The team was led by then-sophomore Taylor Groves and seven seniors. It was the seniors’ last chance to close out the season on their terms.
Now, those players have graduated, and Taylor Groves is not expected to play this season. For Caton, his absence will be noticeable.
“In the past, he’s been the guy,” Caton said. “It’s going to be a challenge for some guys to step up and fill that role for him.”
Senior Alex Patterson spent a lot of time on the floor last season, so Caton thinks his experience will be crucial when dealing with a mostly new team.
“He had a lot of time on the court last year, a real consistent player,” Caton said. “He has a very high IQ on the basketball court.”
In his third season as the Indians head coach, Caton wants his team to be focused on the defensive side of the ball. It will take his players time, especially this season to find their roles on the team, but the players just want to have a season after the premature end to the previous campaign.
“(There’s a) big growing curve that we have this season, not having a summer,” Caton said. “Kind of still in limbo with a lot of guys, not being able to have that summer to develop and find their roles and settle into what they can excel at. The first part of the season is going to be a challenge for every team because of that fact.
“Our guys, they just want to play. They’re excited for a season, and I hope that happens for them.”
The Bobcat program lost five senior starters to graduation. When looking to replace all of that production, head coach Kenton Coleman said there is no player that will lead the team every night.
“I don’t think it’s any one player,” Coleman said. “It’s going to be a collective group effort. We have a lot of guys that can knock down shots.”
Three seniors return for Coleman. Tyler Pitt, Izik Rector and Hunter Thaxton have been in the system since their freshman year, and the coach has confidence in those players to run the offense and lead.
“This is their fourth year running this thing, running our plays,” Coleman said. “They play really hard. I think they set a good example for the younger guys, so I think that’ll show as we progress in the season.”
Greenbrier is integrating a new defensive scheme, which is tough during a time when practices and scrimmages have been cancelled. Coleman said with a lack of practice and scrimmages, his team may have to be patient to see the desired results.
“‘We’re trying to put in a new defensive scheme this year, so it’s going to take some time,” Coleman said. “Obviously, not having summer practice and only two weeks, that’s a short amount of time.”
Head coach Jojo Northington is in his 11th season at Jo Byrns and has never seen anything like the pandemic. From temperature checks and wearing a mask to quarantine, it has been a hassle.
His team has already had to spend time in quarantine, and he told his team they have to shift their mindset.
Northington said, “Since we’ve missed two days, the speech I gave was, ‘We don’t even know if our season is going to exist this year. Every time we step on the floor, you’ve got to really play like it’s your last time ever touching the floor.’
“That’s the mindset I’m trying to keep them in. I want to keep them focused and let them know that tomorrow isn’t promised when it comes to sports.”
Jo Byrns will run a fastbreak offense and give playmakers the opportunity to play their defenders one-on-one.
The Red Devils will lean heavily on senior Jayden Caira. He averaged 19 points per game last season and runs the show for his team on the offensive side of the ball.
“He’s our point guard, our leading scorer,” Northington said. “He probably has the highest IQ on the team, and he can just score all over the place. Good outside shot, good ball handling, good quickness. His goal has always been to play at the next level, and I hope that can still happen.”
Conventional wisdom in basketball says the taller players play in the post and the shorter players play on the outside.
Throw that out the window when watching the Yellow Jackets this season.
Head coach Micah Rochester has a team that is fairly different from his past groups based on size. He has a number of players over six-feet-tall, but his only starter under that mark will be his center Savion Scott.
“I’ve never had a kid over six foot that plays a lot of minutes, I’d say, until this year,” Rochester said. “This year, we’ve got a good chance of starting four kids over six foot, and our smallest kid we’ll have on the floor will be our center, who will be Savion.”
Scott, a senior, only stands at 5’11” but uses his strength and skill to win down low.
“He’s so strong, and he knows how to use his body well,” Rochester said. “If he gets around the basket, he’s just really good at finishing and making plays.”
While he will look to Scott to be a strong presence on the block, Rochester is confident that he has a number of players who can have big nights to help his team win.
“We’ll have seven or eight different kids lead us in scoring on a different night,” Rochester said. “We’ll try to share the ball and distribute. I think we’ve got six or seven kids that can definitely have big nights for us.”
There are only three players on the Blue Devil roster who have experience in a varsity game after the program lost seven seniors to graduation.
Current seniors Quad Lucas, Nathan Bowman and Ethan Droz bring back a total of four points per game from last season as the only players who saw the floor.
Lucas is 6’5” and has plenty of size. He has also played on the line for the Blue Devil football team. Head coach Caleb Cook has faith in him to do what is expected of him.
“He played at times last year,” Cook said. “I had two senior bigs a year ago, so his time was a little limited, but he knows what we want. He knows our system. We’ll be relying a lot on him offensively.”
Bowman is a versatile player who can play any spot on the floor. Droz started the first five games last season before an injury knocked him out. Those three players will have to lead the rest of the Blue Devils on and off the floor.
Whatever happens this season, Cook is happy to be spending this time with his players. He wants his guys to simply control what they can control.
“Wins and losses, they always take care of themselves,” Cook said. “We want to play the game the right way. We want to show up and compete everyday, whether it’s a game or a practice. I’m excited about getting our young kids the experience.
“We’re playing a lot of sophomores that have never played. Just getting those guys in a game-like experience when they’re young. We’ll take our bumps and bruises along the way, but we can always control our attitude and our effort in everything we do. I’m excited to get on the floor with these guys.”
White House Heritage
Last summer, head coach Carl Miller was brought in to coach the Patriots but did not have a full offseason to work with his team. This season, despite the chaos of the pandemic, he feels more settled.
“They are more comfortable with me,” Miller said. “I’m more comfortable being here and making sure we implement the things I want implemented. They’re a little more receptive this year than with the late start last year.”
Heritage has eight seniors on the roster. Miller said it is a cohesive group that gel well together.
“We’ve got good senior leadership,” Miller said. “We have eight seniors on the roster… They all get along with each other. They all like each other. They hang out together, which helps.”
The offense will run through senior point guard Damontae Teasley. Miller said he is what “makes us go.”
Teasley is one of four starters from last season that will look to lead the team. Junior Daniel Bale led the team in scoring last season. Senior Ben Branlund stands at 6’7” and is a reliable post player. Senior Caleb Guisewite, who signed with Belmont to play baseball, also started last year.
“We feel pretty good about our team,” Miller said. “Obviously, we’re not taking anything for granted, but I think we’ve got some pieces that can give us a chance to have a successful season.”
The girls basketball preview will be featured next week.