Jason Tigert, in his third year as head coach of the Marshall County High School Tigers set his team loose to burn the cords from long range last season and the Tigers went crazy, shell shocking their opponents with double figures in 3's in many of their games.
Combine the big numbers on offense with a hard pressing defense and what you had was an incredible 23-7 record, a 15 game turnaround from the previous season.
Tigert inspired his team, working them through a rigorous pre-season routine, challenging them with a tough defensive style, and pushed them to succeed past everyone else's expectations, believing in his squad, and in turn, the players responded with a breakout season.
"I would like to see another team in the state with that kind of improvement," said Tigert. "This year we want to win the district and advance out of the region. Anything short of that will be a disappointment."
After working so hard in the regular season to put themselves in great shape and having the advantage of hosting the District 10AA Tournament, an unexpected, gut wrenching 69-65 district semifinal loss to Spring Hill instead put them in a bad predicament, denying them the district crown, took a lot of steam out of the team, and sent them on the road for round two of the region tourney as the three seed.
The Tigers came back to win the region opener versus Lewis County, but four days later they were done, losing on the road at David Lipscomb 75-59.
Tigert said, "What we learned was that every single possession matters, every single game. "It was (Spring Hill game) a seven point game with fifty seconds to go. Then things go wrong for us and right for them and we lose."
"It was a tough environment when we went to David Lipscomb and lost," said Tigert. "That is one reason why we have put them back on the schedule this season. We want to play in tough environments and play teams that are better than anyone we face in the district. If you are not pushed, you will never get better."
Living and dying by the three-pointers last season worked most of the time, but when the shooting went cold, the Tigers struggled. This season, Tigert wants to diversify his offense and said, "We are working on our back cut options and getting to the free throw line. When the long ball is not falling, you have to find another way to win."
Defense can also turn into points in the transition game and the Tigers have the players and the will to make it happen. "We have to keep people out of the paint and allow just one shot. The players on this team have the mindset that I am not going to allow my man to get past me," said the coach. "They believe I can stop my man one-on-one."
The Tigers may be short of height, but certainly not short of the raw talent that feeds Tigert's up tempo offensive mantra of shoot, shoot, and shoot again.
Leading the way for the Tigers this season is the super soph and super sought after Kedren Johnson. Johnson decided not to play football this year and spent his summer, rocketing to the number three spot in player rankings for the 2011 class on the Tennessee prep charts.
"Kedren has worked really hard this summer playing on the AAU circuit and has gotten a lot of recognition. What makes him go is he wants to win," said Tigert. "If he continues to work hard, he will be a division one ballplayer. He is not there yet, but he is a gym rat and a very smart kid, he has a 3.7 G.P.A."
According to National Recruiting Analyst Andre Whitehead of tennesseeprephoops.com, who scouted Johnson at several events over the spring and summer, "I come away more impressed every time I see this young man. His ability to run the show and his unselfish nature make him a coach's dream. He has great explosion to the glass and the ability to finish softly. More work on his outside game makes him a top 50 player nationally once the major services learn of his exploits."
Whitehead went on to say, "If you have not had the pleasure of watching this young man play, you need to make sure you head down to Lewisburg and catch a glimpse of his exciting brand of hoopage. Johnson has the ability to score from off the dribble or from the big line. He leads from the point position and has the basketball savvy to get everyone involved and still score 25+ per game. Hard work and extra gym time will put him into the next level of national recognition. Believe me when I tell you the national recognition is coming and coming hard."
"Everybody's been looking at Kedren," Tigert said. "Including Tennessee, Alabama, and Memphis."
Senior Brandon (BB) Burns, a transfer from Hazleburn, Ala., is no stranger to this group of players, having lived in Lewisburg before.
"Brandon is a tough hard nosed defender who will play the physical game," said Tigert. "BB shoots well, handles the ball well, and can nail the three."
Guards Blaise Spencer and Hunter Osborne, two of the best long range shooters in the state, who combined for over a hundred 3's last season return for their senior years and have been working hard to improve their already deadly accuracy from behind the three-point line.
The other starting senior is the player Tigert calls the 'glue', Cameron McCullough. McCullough is an experienced player who can dish the rock, take it to the rim, or pull up for the jumper.
"Cameron is the glue," said Tigert. "He just does not care about the spotlight. Cameron does not have to score for us to win. It is nice to have someone out there like that."
Off the bench first will probably be the talented Dominique Matthews who can provide what Tigert calls, "instant offense". For defensive situations, Broderick Tears, a tenacious defender will be called upon.
The Tigers will be without another emotional leader, Cory Duvall, who injured his shoulder over the summer and will not be back until after Christmas. "Corey is an emotional leader," said Tigert. "It will be great when he can finally return."
Youngsters to look out for this year are sophomore Dillon Stinnett and freshman Brock Spencer who Tigert said, "Worked their butts off to make the team and we want to get them some floor time."
Rounding out the roster at press time is freshman J. J. Contreras, Timothy Hutton, and Daniel Gordon.
Asked why someone would come out and see this year's version of Tiger basketball, Tigert said, "We will not fear a loss. Our guys are full of confidence and our guys will play anybody, anytime without fear. We play hard, we play fast, and we have a bunch of great athletes. We have great chemistry and they all love one another. We also have some have unfinished business."