Boys a threat to any team despite middle-of-the-pack record
By Trey Williams
The homestretch of basketball season should be entertaining at Daniel Boone, where the Lady Trailblazers are in contention for a Big Seven Conference title and the boys’ team appears capable of a gratifying postseason run.
Fourth-year coach Travis Mains’ Lady Blazers (8-1, 19-5) have won six straight games and second-year coach Chris Brown’s Trailblazers beat both Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill in January for the first time since beating those traditional powers back to back to win a district tournament title in 2009-10.
Mains played for Bobby Snyder at Boone with the likes of David Garland, Jody Jenkins, Kyle Hayworth and Clint Taylor. During his senior season (1993-94) they led by double digits against Tennessee High in the regional semifinals before their Sweet 16 bid turned bitter.
“We blew a 14-point lead against Tennessee High,” Mains said. “We were eight minutes away from going to the substate (sectional). It was a sad locker room. Boone had never done that in (Class) AAA, even when they had (Mark) Larkey and (Steve) Cox.”
Mains’ long-awaited sectional berth is within reach thanks, in part, to Larkey’s niece, 6-foot-3 Sydney Pearce, and fellow sophomore Macie Culbertson.
“That’d be a dream for this team to get to the substate,” Mains said. “If we take care of business, we have a shot.”
Pearce already has offers from Western Kentucky and Pat Summitt’s son Tyler at Louisiana Tech. Duke’s recruiting coordinator attended Boone’s home win against Science Hill, and Florida has called to say it’ll attend a game this season.
Pearce’s mother, the former Tammy Larkey, played two years for Summitt at Tennessee (1981-83) before transferring to East Tennessee State for her final two seasons.
Tammy led Clarence Mabe-coached Boone to two sectional berths and was a Parade All-America after a career that included 2,934 points. The 6-foot-5 center averaged 26.1 points and 11.2 rebounds as a senior, received some 100 scholarship offers and her No. 52 was retired until Sydney began wearing it.
Tammy would tell you Sydney is more skilled – she can finish with either hand – and a superior athlete. Sydney broke her mother’s single-game blocked shots record en route to a triple-double (15 points, 15 rebounds, 11 blocks) in a win against Tennessee High this season.
Mains said parents such as Tammy make his job easier in terms of being demanding on players.
“Tammy gets where Sydney’s at and where Sydney’s gonna play at the level she needs to be at,” Mains said. “She’s very supportive of us as a coaching staff and she’s just a good overall parent. Sydney’s just so naturally nice and laid back. If she ever figures out to be mean there’ll be nobody that stops her. She’s a goodhearted kid with a 4.0 GPA.”
Pearce is leading Boone with 11.6 points per game and just under five blocks per game.
“She’s probably got 120 blocks so far this year and about the same amount last year,” Mains said. “She’ll have a chance to have 500 blocks in her career, which is a staggering number to me.”
Mains also predicts there’ll be multiple Division I offers for Culbertson, a skilled 5-foot-10 point guard who missed her senior season after an ACL tear. A couple of Big Seven coaches said they might’ve picked Boone to win the league last season if Culbertson had been healthy.
She’s averaging 10 points per game while orchestrating the offense, and Mains estimates she’s only 80 percent of the player she was prior to the injury thanks, primarily, to having to steadily break through the psychological barrier.
“She’s still a little bit scared about her knee,” Mains said. “So she doesn’t want to come to complete stops and use her size to finish and get and-ones. … You’ll see her production go up here in the next week or two. She’s such an unselfish kid. A lot of that comes from when she was in middle school; she was so good and athletic that the other kids started to call her a ball hog.
She still thinks she’s a ball hog at times and we’re trying to tell her to get more shots up. She’ll get in the paint and look to pass when I want her to shoot. …
“She’s so strong. It’s just at a different level – her passing skills and understanding of the game. Her best basketball’s ahead of her. … When she wants to win there’s not much that’s gonna happen. She’s gonna take it over. … She’s fun to coach.”
Mains has a 1,000-point scorer in senior forward Jaclyn Jenkins (11.5 ppg), an inside-out threat that’s meshed well with the touted underclassmen.
“She’s fine with her role,” Mains said. “When we need to get a rebound defensively she’s the person that goes and gets it. … They defer to her. In tough situations she’s usually the one taking the shot. … She’s done a good job with body language and being a leader. She’s not a talker; she’s more of a leader by action.”
The talker is fellow senior Haley Jones, who can influence a game without necessarily playing. Jones might do most of the talking when players meet amongst themselves for the first 30 seconds of a 60-second timeout.
“She’ll see stuff from the bench,” Mains said. “It’s almost like having another coach. It’s just weird having a player like that. She cares less about herself and cares so much more about the other players and the team.”
Junior wing Montana Riddle has made key contributions, as have junior guard Makenzy Bennett, sophomore guards Emily Sizemore and Kaitlyn Harville and freshman guard Bayleigh Carmichel.
“Montana Riddle, here the last three of four weeks, has started shooting the ball really well from the outside,” Mains said. “She’s had two or three games where she’s hit big-time 3-point shots. … And Sizemore’s had a couple of close games where she’s hit a couple of big threes for us that kind of put the game out of reach. It’s been different kids. The Harville girl and Bayleigh Carmichel have started coming on and they are playing bigger roles for us coming off the bench. And McKenzy Bennett – they’ve all at some point and time all made plays that’ve helped make us 19-5 instead of being, oh, 12-12.”
Riddle beat the halftime buzzer with a 3-pointer that gave Boone a 20-18 lead at Elizabethton on Jan. 9. The Lady Cyclones, the No. 1 team in Class AA, rallied to win 58-39, but the performance produced perhaps Boone’s best 2 1/2-quarter start this season.
Mains wonders how Boone would’ve finished if Pearce wasn’t plagued by foul trouble.
“She’d been pretty dominant that night,” Mains said. “I wanna say she had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six or seven blocked shots in about 16 or 17 minutes. Defensively, we were really, really good.”
Two of Boone’s five losses have come to Elizabethton. The Lady Trailblazers have also lost to Happy Valley (57-55), No. 7 Morristown West (40-32) and Big Seven-leading Dobyns-Bennett (44-40), which visits Gray on Friday.
The Lady Trailblazers have won six straight games, including a 49-48 victory at Tennessee High. They also recorded a one-point win in a holiday tournament against the Lady Vikings, who will visit Gray for Boone’s regular-season finale Feb. 12.
The 19 wins matches Mains’ previous high, which came during his second season. Boone won 18 games in his first season and 13 games during a disappointing season last year which ended with a loss to David Crockett that was the rival Lady Pioneers’ second win in three meetings in 2014-15.
A basketball junkie, Mains is married to his work. Mains, a post player who beat Ray Allen to win the Arby’s Classic 3-point Shootout his senior year, met his wife/assistant coach Missey when they were playing at King College, where Mains played for Scott Polsgrove.
“We came in in the same class,” Mains said. “We were friends one year and the next year we started dating each other and the rest is history. … Me and Larry Sharrett and Mark Pendleton were all in the same class. We were on one of the worst teams King College ever had our freshman year (1994-95), and our senior year we made the national tournament and won the conference championship.”
A conference title is a possibility for Boone this season.
“We’re having a good year and I think a lot of it is because of the things we’ve learned from last year,” Mains said. “We’ve got good chemistry. All the kids get along really well. … If our best players show up we should be in good shape.”
Daniel Boone’s boys (4-5, 9-11) are more dangerous than their record would indicate. They beat second-place Science Hill by 16 points last week and played league-leading David Crockett tough for three-plus quarters four days later.
The Trailblazers are led by senior guards Ryan Keever (18.2 ppg) and Alex Percell (10.4 ppg) and junior forward Evan Scanlan (9.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), a versatile, inside-out threat who’s shooting 64.5 percent from the field and has the potential for significantly more production.
“I think he creates so many mismatches for us when he’s playing a certain way,” Brown said. “He went through a stretch where he was 15 for 16 (from the field) and then I’ve got to literally beg him to shoot it. You don’t understand the amount of time we’ve spent trying to get him to shoot the ball. So that’s still a work in progress, but at least he’s making strides.”
Keever, Percell and fellow seniors Dylan Cloyd and Gabe Sanders have led on and off the court.
“I think our seniors have been great setting the tone in practice,” said Brown, a 43-year-old Miami native who came to East Tennessee when his wife, Dr. Annette Abril, got a job.
Brown had credibility. He coached Tim Hardaway Jr. in high school and is good friends with Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who he met while playing pickup basketball in Miami some 18 years ago.
Brown landed on his feet with the head coaching job at Volunteer.
“I was just pleased to get an opportunity,” Brown said, “coming in from scratch not really knowing anybody.”
His Falcons teams generally overachieved. And at this point, some would say that’s the case with his second Boone team.
“We try and just make sure everybody understands they’ve got a role and every role is critical,” Brown said. “We want to play as hard as we possibly can. I think that starts with the culture you try to create in the locker room and practice and stuff like that.
“I think we’re improving and the big thing is these guys really come in and practice. I mean, they really come in and work.”
Junior guard Jayden Stevens defends the dribble well and is capable of finishing in transition. The tireless Cloyd prides himself on defense.
“What he’s giving us from a defensive standpoint and an energy standpoint, he allows us to mix up coverage and he allows us to mix up defenses,” Brown said. “He does a great job communicating. What he brings us defensively, I think, has been huge. … Alex Percell does a great job helping and taking charges.
“Dylan does it mostly with his energy. I mean he just comes in ready to roll every time. He understands that’s his role and what his job is.”
Cloyd’s defense was impressive when he got a hand in front of the face of Appalachian State commitment Patrick Good when the Pioneers were clinging to a 60-54 lead with a 1:30 remaining last week. Of course, Good still swished the step-back 15-footer from the left elbow.
“It was great defense, but a better play on Pat’s part,” Brown said. “What do you do? You can live with those.”
Open opportunities were hard for Crockett to generate consistently in both games against Boone, as was the case for Science Hill, which should have an easier time with Daniel Boone’s press now that former Trailblazers’ point guard Holden Hensley is eligible.
“He brings another dimension,” said Brown, who hated to lose Hensley. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s unselfish. He’ll get to the rim but he’s a threat to score or pass, which makes them tougher because you’ve got to watch him on kick-outs and stuff like that. He finds guys. The transition game’s gonna be better for them.”
But Boone will continue trying to dictate with its defense. Brown wasn’t surprised that his team beat Science Hill, though the 16-point margin surely wasn’t expected.
“We’d been talking about … needing a breakthrough,” Brown said. “We’d been close. What I kept preaching to the kids, you know, was it’s gonna come. We were looking for that complete game and I knew it was coming in terms of I could see it in the way we were playing and I could see it in the way we were practicing. …
“If we can get stops and get out and run a little bit we’re obviously tough to guard off the bounce. When we’ve had success we’re playing well defensively. I think that was the case against Science Hill and we’ve been able to get stops against Crockett. The second half on Friday night was good defensively. Pat (Good) made some shots, but I thought we slowed them down a little bit.”
Keever scored a team-high 21 points at Crockett. He made a 7-foot leaning bank to get Boone within 52-48 with 4:16 left, and his 9-foot turnaround bank cut Crockett’s lead to 60-54 with two minutes remaining. With enough desire and athleticism to play bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame, Keever can parlay shot-fakes in to put-backs and drives the baseline for reverse layups in traffic.
The talented Keever could play small-college basketball. But he appears intent on studying engineering at Tennessee, where he’s already been accepted.
Brown said Keever and company began to turn the corner while winning two of three games at a holiday tournament in Vero Beach, Fla.
“I thought the Florida trip was huge,” he said. “In terms of size and speed – we hadn’t seen that all year. And to have some success down there … I think the kids believe that we can be a factor in this, and that’s half the battle. I sincerely think that they believe. If we can get in there and play well, who knows, maybe we can make a run.”