Based on age and experience, some people wondered if Lucas Honeycutt would struggle to get his team going out of the gates.
Nine games into the season, the Elizabethton boys basketball coach is silencing his critics.
“With each game he's earned the players trust a little more,” said Cyclones' athletic director Mike Wilson. “They know he's the real deal now. He's like a gym rat, and he's very knowledgeable about the game.”
Elizabethton is 7-2, including a 2-0 record in the Three Rivers Conference.
Honeycutt, who is 25 years old, said he knew a good start would be important in his first season as a varsity head coach.
“I thought it was crucial,” said Honeycutt. “We had a tough schedule to start, and it was a little nerve wracking. But the kids have responded and listened well. They've tried to get better every day, moving in the right direction.”
One thing that has helped Honeycutt succeed has been his demeanor, said Wilson.
“The most impressive thing is he's firm but not loud,” said Wilson. “It's not about him. He's not out front. He tells them what he expects, and he demands it. But he's not a screaming, yelling guy.
“He's got some talent on the team, and some good kids. I'm not surprised he's winning. The kids like the way he leads.”
Looking a little closer at the 7-2 start reveals the strength of it. The Cyclones lost to Cherokee in Hall of Champions game, but the Chiefs are 8-5 with their losses coming against quality opponents — including Science Hill.
Then the Cyclones beat a Tennessee High team that is 8-4. Elizabethton followed up with a loss to perennial Class AA state power Knox Fulton. That was a tight 56-52 decision on the road.
The Cyclones then edged Hampton and Clinton in back-to-back one-point games, proving Honeycutt can handle the rigors of late-game coaching situations.
Since then, Elizabethton has beaten Johnson County, Morristown East, Unicoi County and South Greene by large margins.
“I think it has just been teamwork,” said Honeycutt. “We haven't had just one kid we rely on. We've played a few games without kids because of sickness or injury.
“I credit kids being able to step in and play multiple positions or take on multiple roles. Everybody shows up, and we don't have to worry. It's a good group.”
And it's a senior-laden group, which Honeycutt said is filled with leaders.
“They all have their moments,” said Honeycutt. “When one is down, someone else steps up. It hasn't been one constant leader. And we have one junior we kind of treat like a senior in Zeke Clark. He fits in, and they all have their moments.”
Honeycutt said the win over Unicoi on Friday was important for his team.
“I think it's great any time you win a rivalry game,” he said. “Unicoi and Elizabethton have been big rivals the last few years. It was really big for us.”
Next up for the Cyclones is the Smoky Mountain Classic at Gatlinburg-Pittman. Elizabethton will open against Pulaski County, Ky., on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
“I don't know a lot about the teams on our side of the bracket,” said Honeycutt. “But I would assume if they're willing to travel all that way, they're able to play. We told the tournament director we wanted the best competition we could get.”
Despite the quick start, Honeycutt said he's still very much in the learning stage of his coaching career. Included in that mix are behind-the-scenes parts of coaching.
“You've got to be the guy who makes tough decisions if you have an issue with grades or behavior or missed practice,” said Honeycutt. “Sometimes it's difficult to make the final call.”
Also, Honeycutt said he's learning how to oversee the entire program.
“You've got to watch everything going on in the program,” he said. “We want to create a program that is respected.”
Add it all up, and Wilson said it looks like the Cyclones will have a chance to get some continuity back into the boys' program.
“I think he's doing a great job,” said Wilson. “I think he will be at Elizabethton for a long time.”