Fall makes way for winter, football season is almost over, and the start of another high school basketball season begins in Marshall County. It is time to go inside for a while and catch some games on the hardwood and enjoy a season that has all the makings of an exciting campaign for men's basketball.
The Forrest Rockets
Last Year: (18-11)
The Forrest Rockets come off a successful 2006-'07 season where they went 18-11 overall and 12-3 in District 9AA play, tied for first with Cascade. The Champions won the District Tournament on their home floor, but lost in the first round of the Region 5A Tournament to eventual champs, East Literature, ending their season.
The Rockets won a tight game at home over Houston County 60-57 in the quarterfinals, sending coach McClaran and the Rockets to the Region 5A Tournament in Eagleville as the number two seed. Forrest lost 30-29 in an unforgettable game that went to the wire versus the Eagles on their home floor that ended the season for the Rockets.
The Rockets won with defense, leading the district in the least points allowed, and they won with a presence in the low post called Corey Shankle. Shankle, the schools leading all-time scorer, along with the entire backcourt of Chase Beaulieu and Chandler Gentry, and power forward Brian Whitley have graduated.
"Last year our strength was under the basket, this year it is our speed and our ability to make good decisions outside, McClaran said, and we will have to play good defense again."
Schnaap to lead offense
The Rockets will be a team in transition this year, especially early in the season as they face another grueling schedule to begin the year. The Rockets return one of the region's top scorers in Nick Schnaap and the offense will revolve around the senior guard.
"We are going to run our offense thru Schnaap; he is gonna be the guy that other teams focus on in their defense. It will be a transition for him, but Nick doesn't get rattled that much. Much like Shankle, our other players will feed off Nick's abilities."
At the point will be Kendall Knight and Kyle Anglin, both capable ball handlers and scoring threats. "Kyle has been doing it all summer and is not afraid to shoot it. He and Kendall will be fighting for that starting position and I know what both will bring."
Colin Henson will bring his athleticism and fiery nature to the wing, along with Preston Pratt, Seth Brothers and Devin O'Brien, giving McClaran a deep rotation to utilize.
In the post will be senior Buck Bennett and sophomore Parker Holton who have big shoes to fill after Shankle's departure. The 6-foot-5 Hudson Bell is on the squad this year and should provide some valuable minutes for McClaran. Ferris Perkins and Taylor Schoenberger, both promising freshman could also see some duty this year down low.
"These guys just need experience," McClaran said. "We may see some growing pains at the beginning of the season getting some points, but I know they will get rebounds and play great defense.
"Farris has lots and lots of potential, he is very athletic. Now is the time for him to grow up a bit and mature down on the block. Parker is solid; he shoots from the outside and moves well down low. He is an intelligent basketball player. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in basketball IQ."
The Rocket roster is loaded with young players who need some experience and could help down the stretch. They include, Kyle Gugger, Corey Bishop, Leland Brothers, and Dane Leonard.
In their first six games, the Rockets play perennial powerhouse Clarkrange in one Hall of Fame game in Chapel Hill, travel to Tullahoma for the second fame game, and then make another appearance at the tough Bridgestone Classic in Laverne, where they are sure to meet some tough opponents for two nights.
At the inaugural Forrest Thanksgiving Classic, they will battle Tullahoma and Richland before they make the trip up the mountain to Van Buren to open up district play.
The Rockets will have to survive the early schedule and use the tough competition to gain confidence and gel as a unit. If past experience is any indicator of where they will be at the end of the long season at district tournament time in February, the Rockets will be right there, contending for the title and another trip to the region.
"We don't have any off nights with our schedule McClaran noted, it will be tough."
"If this group can stay focused, we can surprise a lot of people. We have something to prove this year. We are well capable of doing what the past teams have done. They all know they can't do it by themselves; our key will be hard work. We are going to try to outwork you."
"We have to play one game at a time. Anything is possible this year; we are flying under the radar."
The Cornersville Bulldogs
(Adrian Wilson, 2nd year)
Last Year: (11-17)
Adrian Wilson came to Cornersville to build the program into one of the elite basketball programs in the mid-state and in his first year he guided the Bulldogs to their first Region quarter-final appearance in more than 15 years.
"Last year they wanted to play teams close, this year they want to win," said Wilson. "We were right there last year at the end; we had a chance to beat both Richland and Moore County.
"This year we want to be much better than the Cornersville standard. We want to play good teams, compete for the district title, and show people what we are made of. The difference I believe this year is the players are learning basketball IQ. They have learned the fundamentals of my system, and got rid of their bad habits. We don't want to be arrogant, but we want to have an attitude and make our program one that says 'We are Cornersville and we want to compete.'"
The Bulldogs bring back five seniors, including the backcourt duo of Steven "Ice Man" Nelms and point guard Jimmy Civils. Civils is the quarterback of the squad who takes care of the ball and runs the offense. Nelms is the shooter and he hit some huge baskets for the Dawgs last year, including a buzzer beater versus Collinwood to win the game.
"Jimmy is quick, offensively and defensively, he will run the show said Wilson. He has got to create the tempo for us by pushing the ball."
"Nelms is a scorer that stretches the floor for us, Steven can get it done from everywhere and he makes us hard to guard when he is on the floor."
Juniors Chuck Bassham and the speedy Kyle Hammock played integral roles at the guard spot last year and are both just rounding into form after football.
Other guards include junior Flint Davis, who will get a good look and the talented freshman Josh "Boochie" Pope should ease into some playing as the season goes on, along with his freshman cohort, Justin McCord.
A talented frontcourt
Senior post man Tyler Cole is primed for a big year in "C-Town." Wilson said, "Tyler has matured, he has muscled up in the weight room and has looked fabulous. He will be tough to guard. Garrett Stiles is one of the most athletic kids in our entire district. He will hurt you in the blocks, from outside, and on the boards with his athleticism."
Senior Lucas Highfill is a swingman who can score and rebound.
The Crowell brothers, senior Jacob and freshman Aaron are both talented and capable players that Wilson will use a lot. "Jacob is my back-up post and I can always count on him to play tough defense. Aaron can come off the bench and do so much for our team this year."
Josh Rich is another great three-point shooter in Wilson's stable who he says has worked very hard and will get some minutes.
Wilson mentioned Joseph Darnell, the gym rat he has to run out of the gym because he has worked so hard this summer.
The Pope Brothers also will be used with Josh having a chance at the back-up point guard spot because of his natural abilities that shined in his great middle school season last year. Brent, a 6-foot-2-inch forward has a lot of skill and Wilson said, "He runs like an elk who can rebound, score and goes to war on defense."
Rounding out the squad is Trenton Davis and Cody Poarch.
The Marshall County Tigers
(Jason Tigert, 2nd year,
David Lovell, 1st year)
Last Year: (9-21)
There is a different feel in Lewisburg this year about the basketball team. Optimism is the prevailing theme this season as second-year head coach Jason Tigert has prepared the Tigers to take another step towards garnering their first winning season in many years.
"I think we will compete for the district championship this year," Tigert said. "We have worked so hard over the off-season to prepare for this year. The guys have worked hard in the weight room and on their individual games. I really believe you will see us compete this year."
Tigert said he believes things will be different this year in Lewisburg, but he must decide whether an early season without his leading scorer Deshaun Greer who injured his shoulder during football season and is not expected back on the court until mid December.
There is also uncertainty about the availability of Don'ta Hightower, who has not yet decided whether he will play basketball for the Tigers. If Hightower plays, the entire scenario could change for the Tigers who lack depth in the low post.
"I hope we don't have the football guys when the season starts because that means they are still winning," Said Tigert. "I am not sure about Don'ta, but without Deshaun in the lineup to begin the season we will have to play a smaller, but faster line-up. We will be competitive no matter what the situation."
The Tigers finished the 2006-'07 season with an 9-21 overall record and a 5-7 district record. Tigert's Tigers won their first district tournament game in four years with a 79-64 victory over Page in a play-in game at home.
The win versus Page earned them a berth in the District 10AA Tournament and the Region Tournament. The Tigers went on to lose three straight, all on the road, to Giles County, Spring Hill, and a 68-43 loss at Martin Luther King to end their season.
One thing the Tigers do have is an experienced backcourt that play defense, handle the ball, and shoot the three-pointers. The trio of Blaise Spencer, Ryan Nicholson, and Hunter Osborne can all fill it up from long range and are in their second year with coach Tigert and know his system.
"Nicholson, my point guard brings a lot of experience said Tigert, he has told me he wants to be a coach and he acts like one on the court."
Osborne and Spencer will make it hard for teams to double down on Greer because they can both light it up when they get going. "These two guys shoot the ball as well as anyone in Tennessee Tigert said, I expect break-out years from both of them. They have worked hard in the gym and I expect them to be more aggressive, offensively."
Cameron McCullough will also see plenty of time with the ball. Tigert said that McCullough has worked very hard in the summer to improve his shooting and he expects him to hit some big shots this season.
Swingman Jamie Perryman can play all three guard spots and his intensity and athleticism will fit right in the up-tempo scheme.
Corey Duvall, who got a lot of minutes as a freshman last year, can do a lot and Tigert said that he has worked as hard as anyone over the summer and the pre-season to improve.
Sophomore Cody Henson is what Tigert described as "a scrapper" who will do all the little things to win.
Tigers bring strength to the post
The Tigers will be tough on the blocks as well with Greer, who had a break-out year last season. "I expect a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds from Deshaun every night," said Tigert.
"He has such a great work ethic and leads by example. Deshaun plays as hard as he can on every play and competes to a high level that will filter to the rest of the team."
The wild card in the deck is Hightower, with his presence and big 6-foot-3, 250-pound body down low, the Tigers could put up some big numbers on their opponents.
The surprise player of the season may be junior Darius Jones, who was injured for half the season last year. "Darius has really come on," said Tigert; he is so much bigger and stronger this year. He will see valuable minutes in the block."
Let's not leave out freshman Kedron Johnson, another talented youngster who has all the athletic talent necessary to play right away. "Wow, Kedron is really a gifted athlete," said Tigert. "He will see the floor as a freshman at the 1, 2, 3, and 4 spots because he is so multi-talented."
Scotty Hargrove and his 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame will also be a great asset in the post.
Football player Michael Murphy is another large body. And junior Cody Duvall, and freshmen Broderick Tears, Dominique Matthews, Dillon Stinnett and Jordan Anderson will be ready when their numbers are called.
"The district is up this year," said Tigert. "There will be a number of teams competing for the title and we will be one of them."