Just around the corner we have arguably the most important month of the summer, especially for those players entering into their senior season with aspirations of playing on the next level.
June is an invaluable month as the high schools get their initial feel for what to look forward to for the coming season and starting to build some chemistry.
Team camps from one end of the state to the other dominate the landscape this month and I made my way this week to a few of them.
On Monday a short trip to Maryville College put me courtside to watch a few teams with some exciting young players.
Carter, after two straight state tourney appearances appears to be ready to make the three-peat with a stacked line-up led by Lester "The Action Figure" Wilson (Carter), Braylen "Vitamin B" Bennett (Carter), Anthony "Gumby" Lewis (Carter) and Zach Ballinger (Carter). The Hornets have a bit more depth this season and will be a tough out all season.
Knoxville West has another athletic, talented squad led by rising seniors JuJuan Williams (Knoxville West), Phillip "Tookie" Stanford (Knoxville West) and Blake Golden (Knoxville West). The Rebels played without some of their major players yet still made quite an impression.
Rhea County played tough and hard led by rising junior guard Jalen Smith (Rhea County) and senior post Hunter (Rhea County).
Pigeon Forge unveiled one of the finest young shooters in East Tennessee as rising junior Andrew Barnette (Pigeon Forge) displayed range from all over the Randy Lambert Gym at Maryville College.
On Tuesday, I raced down I40 to Cookeville for a day at Tennessee Tech. Things started with the Stars from Siegel and one of the biggest front lines in the state. Cedric Williams (Siegel), continues to make strides towards being a solid mid-major prospect and 6'8 Stephen "Big" Hurt (Siegel), played very well with his exceptional hands and ability to finish around the bucket.
Red Bank displayed two very solid rising senior guards and one of the best coached teams in the state. Nick Ross (Red Bank) is an exceptional shooter when his feet are set and Kelvin Clay (Red Bank) scores his points off the dribble and drives to the bucket.
Young players dominate the roster for the boys from Cookeville. Phillip Roper (Cookeville) is an exciting young point guard who will be forced to grow up in a hurry running the show for Coach Bray.
Another well-coached and traditionally solid squad the Bees from Upperman played some of the big boys and held their own quite well. Rising seniors Chris Nash (Upperman) and Matt Allen (Upperman) providing majority of the scoring and Coach McWilliams is excited about his incoming freshman class which he feels could provide solid minutes this season.
Mason Ramsey (Livingston Academy) was one of the better players on the floor, his ability to score from the mid-range or driving to the bucket makes him invaluable for the Hog-Eye. Older brother, Logan Ramsey (Livingston Academy) can knock down the short baseline jumper and provides a rebounding and shot blocking inside presence for LA, while Kailen Melton (Livingston Academy) can knock them down from deep.
Back to Maryville College on Thursday for a whole new batch of teams starting with Dre Mattheiu (Knoxville Central) and the Bobcats from Knoxville Central.
Losing a plethora of seniors from last season, Mattheiu leads an aggressive group of players buying into what new Coach Mitch Mitchell is cooking.
Sabian Smith (Knoxville Central) gives the Bobcats another scoring threat at the guard spot and burly inside presence Matthew McBee (Knoxville Central) carves out space for his put backs and inside shots.
The Highlanders of Gatlinburg-Pittman are searching for their identity as a team but in the mean time they recovered from a tough outing against Knoxville Central with two big wins in their next games.
Jose Agosto (Gatlinburg-Pittman) can score from outside and the occasional drive to the bucket, Morrease Barber (Gatlinburg-Pittman) showed his overt athleticism with some high rising plays, Jon McCroskey (Gatlinburg-Pittman) shot well in some games and is still becoming comfortable with his role as the lead guard, while rising sophomore Davis Soehn (Gatlinburg-Pittman) was an offensive rebounding machine who even knocked down several threes for the Highlanders.
The Tornadoes of Alcoa have some exciting young players including a couple of rising sophomores in Tre Tate (Alcoa) and Kenny Dean (Alcoa). Rising senior wide receiver, Stephen Isom (Alcoa), who doubles as a jumping jack wing forward, made some athletic plays, check him out a football field near you soon and rising junior post player Matt Shown (Alcoa) dominated the boards and had several easy scores on the interior.
Playing without shooting guard Tanner Torres (Anderson County) the Mavericks of Anderson County continue to play hard and tough led by rising senior inside player Alan Holt (Anderson County). The offense seems to run through him as he makes the pass to the open cutters or shooters in this case a host of good shooters led by Zane Roberts (Anderson County), Avery Oaks (Anderson County), Colby Knox (Anderson County), returning from a knee injury and transfer Ross Cannon (Anderson County).
The brothers Ramsey again proved to the catalyst for the Hog-Eye including some outstanding drives to the bucket from the younger Ramsey brother, Mason, who uses his good size and skill level to get by quicker defenders and finishing hard at the hoop. Brock McCoin (Livingston Academy) is a rising sophomore who has a big time basketball IQ and will be invaluable as the boys from LA make another run toward the ‘boro.
Corey Conard (Cosby) had a field day scoring off the inside pass or grabbing the offensive boards for easy scores as Cosby looks to have a squad that will challenge for honors in upper East Tennessee. Robert Herzog (Cosby) is a tough athlete who combines a good outside stroke with a football player's mentality on the floor and Jake Ledford (Cosby) is an outstanding shooter who will get plenty of looks as the competition decides to double and triple team the big Conard inside.
Saturday takes me over to the University of Tennessee for some games including a look at Memphis Central playing without their inside duo of Jarnell Stokes (Memphis Central) and Cameron Clear (Memphis Central).
Andre Applewhite (Memphis Central) was the center of the scoring attention getting opportunities inside or off the tough drive to the lane. Blake Johnson (Memphis Central) controls the tempo and can score off the pull up while rising freshman guard Tim Shaw (Memphis Central) looks to be another good one in the Bluff City.
Josh Jones (Memphis Central) made some shots from the perimeter while Darius Sorrell (Memphis Central) has the size and skill level to be a key ingredient if this team wishes to make a run at Melrose and White Station.
David Clendenon (Baylor) and Tylan Martin (Baylor) played the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside roles for Baylor as they showed they will be a tough out in the private school division this season.
Aaron Noe (Claiborne) and Jacob Sandifer (Claiborne) both played very well for Claiborne in their early game on Saturday in Thompson Boling Arena.
Cleveland attempts to pick up the pieces after 2,000 point scorer Ish Sanders heads off to college. Not short on athletes, Coach McCowan gives us a first look at Rondez Mee (Cleveland), an athletic scorer who only needs experience on his size to become better, Tevin Rutledge (Cleveland) has good size and can shoot the ball while shooting is the immediate strength of B.J. Davis (Cleveland).
Hampton played with some much larger schools on an even basis and will be the favorite to represent in Class A from East Tennessee next season. Nathaniel Hughes (Hampton) was outstanding in his game stroking the outside shot, driving to the hoop and finishing despite contact and taking charges while playing tough perimeter defense. Dylan Ward (Hampton) showed a soft touch from mid-range.
New mentor Aaron Green has to be excited with his Wildcats of Oak Ridge as they stayed right with the Memphis power until the bitter end. Lonnie McClanahan (Oak Ridge) was the discussion of much hype with his big time drives to the bucket, quickest player with the ball in the gym all weekend; no defender can remain in front of him when he goes to the rack. Tyrece Irons (Oak Ridge) knocked down several outside shots and rising sophomore Rian Hall (Oak Ridge) played tough before tweaking his ankle later in the day.
One of the more exciting games of the day featured the boys from Memphis Central against Carter. Physical and emotional the game came down to overtime when Central dropped a three for the win.