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Undersized Rangers look to make big splash

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 7, 2017 at 1:54 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Unaka has 10 of the 13 players on its varsity roster listed at 6-foot or better.

But, one look at the Rangers and they’re not very bulky or a team that will post much up in a half-court offense. It’s this reason why coach Aaron Dugger emphasizes the Rangers will be more about being solid fundamentally and bringing defensive pressure this season.

“We’re not very big, but we’re going to play hard,” Dugger said. “We want to stretch the floor and be solid defensively. We have to block out better and do some things better than we have in the past.”

Despite the graduation of Kyler Lewis, the area’s leading scorer last season, Unaka does return good experience, particularly with senior guard Gary Wright, junior guard Isaac Hill and junior post John Ramsey. In addition, Blake King and Austin Drew also have varsity playing time.

“Isaac Hill and Gary have been here. It’s Gary’s fourth year starting and Isaac’s third,” he said. “John Ramsey is going to play on the perimeter and Austin Drew got to play a lot last year as a freshman. We’ve got a senior, Blake King, who is athletic and can help us on the perimeter. He can run, jump and move.”

Dugger said the other spots are up in the air and there are eight or nine guys that are interchangeable. With some players who didn’t play last season back on the floor, the starting lineup might change nightly.

“The kids we’ve got, they understand it’s not who starts, but who plays well,” Dugger said. “Underneath, it will be by committee. “Tyler Burke is coming off an ACL tear where he had to sit out all of last year. Justin Houghton, Brandon Smith and John Hardin will help us. We have some guys to work in there, who can help us.”

The rest of the lineup includes sophomores Ryan Johnson, Nolan Bradley and Daniel Ensor, and freshmen Will Sexton and Michael Heath.

The Watauga Valley Conference will look slightly different with Sullivan North replacing South Greene on the schedule. For Dugger, the goals are to improve on last season’s six-win campaign and for the boys to hold their own throughout the season.

“The league is going to be tough,” Dugger said. “Hampton and Cloudland are going to be tough. University High will be good and what I’ve seen from Sullivan North in the summer, they’re going to be good. North Greene brings a lot of pieces back from that district championship team. I won’t say it’s up for grabs, but from top to bottom, everybody is going to be good. It’s about a tough a league now as when I’ve been here. We just have to come out and compete.”

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