2. Tennessee High
3. Science Hill
4. David Crockett
5. Daniel Boone
Dobyns-Bennett basketball coach Chris Poore doesn't mind that Big Seven Conference coaches have named his team the league favorite for the 2018-19 season.
After coming off a year when the Indians shared the Big 7 Conference regular-season title and won the District 1-AAA championship, he's most interested in how the Indians respond to the new role.
"It's something we talk about a lot, our approach to it," Poore said. "Now that we've had success, is that going to breed complacency? If it is, you're going to underachieve."
There would appear to be little chance of that with the Indians led by point guard Marae Foreman (5-6, Sr.) and athletic wing Riamello Wadsworth (6-1, Sr.). The Indians also have sharpshooter Chase Jenkins (5-11, Jr.), who hit the game-winning shot against Jefferson County in the Region 1-AAA tournament.
At the posts, Brody Potter (6-2, Sr.) and Charlie Browder (6-7, Jr.) give Dobyns-Bennett a tough defensive combination. The Indians also have tremendous depth.
Abiah Releford, Brit Thomas and Garrett Sherer will be in the starting lineup in some games, while others like Jaden Alderson and Braxton Kulbacki provide more depth. Zane Whitson, the younger brother of Lady Indians' star Courtney Whitson, is a good outside shooter, while D-B picked up Jared Strickland, a star player for KACHEA last season.
"There are a lot of options for our guys," Poore said. "Charlie is probably our only true post. He will be a staple in our offense. But we have shooters and guys who can make plays with the basketball. Right now, we're having some good practices. We're dividing the guys up and they're going at it on a daily basis."
The Vikings return the leading scorer on two teams from a year ago. Senior Christian Webb paced Tennessee High's offense, while the Vikings got in transfer McHale Bright, who was the leading scorer for David Crockett last season.
Besides the combination of that 1-2 scoring punch, the Vikings also featured guard Cade Mitchell, wing Cole McBrayer and 6-foot-7 Nolan Wishon in the post.
This team features depth with coach Roby Witcher commenting that all 13 on the varsity role can do something positive. Brandon Brown, Aidan Carter and Blake Fauver should also get starter minutes, while Preston Quillin, a transfer from KACHEA, adds even more firepower.
"We're skilled. We can shoot it, score it and run the floor," Witcher said. "Sometimes you have people who can shoot it, sometimes you have people who can handle it and sometimes you have experience. We have all of that and I think we will be competitive every night out."
Despite winning a fourth straight Region 1-AAA title last season, the Hilltoppers were picked third by the league coaches.
Science Hill was hit hard by graduation and suffered another blow when point guard Jerriah Love moved with his father in Georgia. In his absence, Will Stevens has taken over the starting point guard role.
Marquis Griffin will be the backup point guard, while Jordan McCloyd will play both the point and at wing. Shane Austin is a defensive specialist, while Andrew Miller has been coming on with his shooting range.
Kendle Cutlip (6-3, Sr.) has added muscle and he gives Science Hill range on both ends of the floor. He, along with Jake Matherne and Drew Morrison, give the Hilltoppers an option of a strong inside game.
"We'll do what we feel like gives us the best chance to win," Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said. "We've got some really good length, including our underclassmen. That will be a big change because we were small last year and it made it difficult in some of our presses. We've got the length and now the question is do we have the speed."
With the Pioneers' historic football season including a first-ever playoff win, it has been overlooked how Crockett could be a contender on the hardwood. Four of the players — John Kollie, Prince Kollie, Donta Hackler and Mark Seidler — are key figures in the football team's success and expected to lead on the basketball floor.
In their absence at the Big 7/Three Rivers jamboree, the Pioneers went with a starting lineup of all guards — Mack Hensley, Eric Dunbar, Ayden Begley, Mason Britton and Dawson Wagner. What the Pioneers lack in size this season, they look to make up for with speed and tenacity — playing a style that coach John Good prefers.
"We have a lot of kids who give effort and compete and that's what we're going to try to do," Good said. "We're going to be able to put the ball in the basket a little better than last year. Hopefully, we can stop the other team. The kids have been working hard and they're eager to get started."
Leading scorer Chad Heglar (6-4, Sr.) returns for the Trailblazers, who will be looking to fill the roles left by the graduation of other scoring threats Eric Rigsby and Jared Lawson. Derek Percell (5-8, Sr.) will run the point for Boone, whose other starters will be Judah Hilton, Jared Adkins and Marshall Golden.
All are listed as guards with the Trailblazers not having a true inside post player, although the majority of the lineup is 6-foot or taller. Colby Backus, a 6-foot-2 junior forward who transferred from Providence Academy, should give Boone another scoring threat, while Cade Norris is someone expected to contribute off the bench.
"Chad will be the focal point of everybody's game plan so other guys will have the opportunities to make shots," Boone coach Chris Brown said. "We know some of the matchups defensively is going to be an issue, so that's something we've been working on. This is the most balanced league in a while so it's going to be competitive."
The Chiefs could prove the critics wrong as they return last season's Big 7 Conference player of the year Ryan Bledsoe and 6-foot-11 post player Wyatt Watson. Beyond those two talented seniors, another final-year player Bailey Broyles is in the starting lineup along with sophomores Jacob Kenner and Breiydon Gilliam.
Four players from the junior class — Joe Nichols, Collin Trent, Jon Fulkerson and Micah Jones — are also suited up for Cherokee. Bledsoe remains the team leader, although the goal is to shore up the support around him.
"Ryan carried the scoring load for us last year," Cherokee coach Ty Webb said. "We look for him to continue to do what he did, as well as doing more on the defensive end. A lot of teams will run multiple guys at him. We have to have some of these other guys step up a little bit."
There is plenty of excitement with legendary coach Mike Poe taking over the Falcons program. Poe, who coached Tennessee Wesleyan College for the past 14 years and led Science Hill to a state championship game prior to that, has some challenges — evidenced by the fact Volunteer is picked last in the league.
Senior Chance Johnson will lead the Falcons at the point with fellow seniors Leyton Patrick, Ethan Dean, Peyton Baker and Creed Christian to have starters roles. Juniors Eli Churchwell and Brody Hunley could play lots of minutes. Zack Evans has shown versatility to play both the 1 and 2 positions, although freshman Heath Miller is currently listed as the backup point guard.
Poe is embracing the challenges and teaching the game to a new group of kids.
"I've had more fun than I've had in years," Poe said. "I've taken seven teams to the national tournament in college and I'm glad I got to experience that. Now, it's more about I want to teach basketball and give something back to the community I grew up in.”