Science Hill girls basketball coach Darrell Barnwell must feel like he has the keys to a Porsche these days.
The Lady Toppers burnt rubber while leaving a solid Tennessee High team in their dust on Tuesday in Viking Hall.
The Lady Vikings entered the game unbeaten, which wasn’t surprising. They are well coached, have a quality backcourt and played hard against Science Hill.
And yet, if not for Kelsey Stoops’ running 30-foot bank shot at the buzzer, they would’ve lost by 30 points.
Science Hill is talented and, thus far, unselfish. It assisted 16 of 29 field goals in the 75-48 victory. Sophomore point guard Tianna Tarter had seven assists.
The athletic Tarter makes men who aren’t exactly girls’ basketball fanatics smile.
She’s been called “a female Nookie” in reference to explosive guard Nathaniel Bailey, who helped George Pitts’ Hilltoppers to back-to-back state championships (1994-95) and was the state tournament MVP in ’95.
Watching her dash up the court in Viking Hall could have evoked visions — relatively speaking, of course — of Bailey’s coast-to-coast drive and dish to Jovann Johnson for the game-winner in the 1995 Arby’s Classic championship against Irmo (S.C.).
Indeed, Arby’s Classic tournament director Richard Ensor smiled while discussing Tarter at halftime on Tuesday. So did several old-school hoops fans (read: slow to warm to girls’ basketball).
It was obvious Tarter was talented when she was running all over the field after taking toss-sweep pitches or grabbing interceptions in the Boys and Girls Club flag football league in elementary school. She piled up touchdowns, often eluding seemingly every defender on a field full of boys while keeping her flags fastened to her sides.
It was obvious Tarter was exceptional when she played five games to lead the Tennessee Lady Trotters to an AAU championship in May of 2010 on a weekend that began with her father, Lanny, dying from a heart attack. He was a month shy of his 38th birthday.
It’s hard to imagine he wasn’t somewhere smiling before that weekend was over, and it’s easy to see him smiling now when he sees Tarter bank in alley-oop lobs from Keisha Gregory or all but sprain defenders’ ankles with cross-over dribbles in the open court.
Parental guidance is a subtext that often surfaces with the Lady Toppers. Gregory’s mother is East Tennessee State coach Karen Kemp, who has coached the Lady Bucs to three straight NCAA Tournaments. Kemp was also a two-time NAIA All-America selection at Berry College.
Keisha, a freshman beyond her years, was underfoot at Lady Bucs practices in the Mini-Dome seemingly before she was off the pacifier. The percussion of leather and hardwood is surely in the rhythm of her heartbeat. She certainly sees the floor like the prototypical coach’s child, as evidenced by the diagonal lob to Tarter last week at Sullivan South.
Junior guard Shy Copney’s father, Damon Johnson, was on Pitts’ state championship team in 1990 and started on the state runner-up team the following year. He started two years for Kevin O’Neill at Tennessee and played professionally for more than a decade in Europe. Johnson, who is in his first season assisting Pitts at King College, isn’t known for wearing daddy goggles, but can be caught smiling occasionally when Copney parlays a between-the-legs dribble into a step-back swish from 3-point range.
Science Hill assistant principal Jeff Aldridge said many men were smiling while watching Copney perform during the Lady Toppers’ title run at the Jim Clark Holiday Classic in Orlando last December.
Junior guard Morgan Knack, who made four of five 3-point attempts against Tennessee High, is the daughter of John Knack. He played at Dyersburg State, and surely helped Morgan form her perimeter stroke.
Science Hill players even have family influence among teammates. Sisters Enjelica and Emanda Reid are juniors. Their father, Winfred, scored 1,224 points at ETSU (1979-82).
He was a tough frontcourt matchup for bigger players, as is the case with the 5-foot-10 Enjelica. Her one-dribble moves and two- and three-dribble drives on the interior are a tough cover for any high school frontcourt player.
Junior forward Shae Smith’s mother, Leah Jackson-Smith, played on Dwight “Greasy” Leonard’s state tournament team at Science Hill before her Hall of Fame career at Carson-Newman. Leah’s game came to mind while watching the athletic, long Shae swat two shots at Tennessee High.
Sophomore post Gabby Lyon has bloodlines, too. Her father, Bart, started in football at Science Hill. Long before she was intercepting a pass and leading a fast break against Tennessee High, Bart was intercepting a pass in a win against Dave Rider’s stout Elizabethton Cyclones program.
Perhaps the best thing about Barnwell’s Porsche is that its odometer has done less rotating than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. Science Hill doesn’t have a senior on the team.
Barnwell looks like the right man to keep the machine in the road the next few years. There are narrow borders between being too much of a players’ coach and a taskmaster whose barking makes players’ go tone deaf, but the firm-but-friendly Barnwell appears to be operating effectively in the confines.
Doing a good job with University High’s girls landed him a job in Middle Tennessee a decade ago. A comparable performance the next couple of years could really pay off in that part of the state.
Trey Williams is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.