Last season, Hampton earned a bid to the boys Class A state basketball tournament, but had the rug yanked out from under it thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bulldogs are loaded again and have one more year of experience. Defending District 1-A tournament champion University High returns all-state guard Kaleb Meredith and should also be considered one of the favorites.
Many coaches remarked that this season could be one of the deepest that the Watauga Valley Conference has been in quite a while.
First-year head coach Tyler Chambers returns seven players from last season, but only two are starters.
Guard Bentley Gilbert and post player Elijah Blair will be looked to as the primary scoring options for the Highlanders. Thankfully, the Roan Mountain outfit didn’t have any scheduled games until December because of football, but Chambers remarked that it has still been tough to deal with the ongoing pandemic.
The Bulldogs lost five seniors off of last season’s state tournament team, but return big names like Conor Jones, Garrett Vines and Morgan Lyons.
Ned Smith said that his squad will have more depth this year as 12 or 13 players will look to getting playing time throughout the season.
Some other names to keep an eye on as the season rolls along include Parker Henry, Logan Whitehead and Dalton Holdsclaw.
The Huskies return five seniors and Sam Tarlton’s squad will be right in the thick of the district race. Senior Kendal Loftis returns as the leading scorer and he will be joined by fellow seniors Cayden Foulks, Shane Cooter, Chance Campbell and Carson Whaley.
Junior Cody Fleshour will see big minutes this year as will foreign exchange student Chriss Schultz.
In the farewell season for the Golden Raiders, Bryant Herron, Isaiah Pruitt and Jacob Cross return to the lineup.
Coach Travis Cain remarked that the Bloomingdale squad doesn’t have the height that it has had in the last few years, but the team is overall quicker.
Other probable starters include Bryson Vance and Josh Lovelace, who will run the point.
Players that will most likely see action coming off of the bench include juniors Chris Watkins, Cornelius Talford and sophomore Thomas Reece.
Prolific scorer Will Sexton returns for his senior season. Unaka returns eight players from last season and will be one of the deeper squads in the conference.
Coach Aaron Dugger says that senior post Michael Heath, who is 6-foot-3, will play a big role both in scoring and hauling down rebounds.
A couple of the other key returners for the Stoney Creek squad include juniors Devin Ramsey and Joseph Slagle.
Entering his senior year, Meredith is currently sitting on 2,200 career points and should easily pass 3,000 based on his current pace. The Tennessee baseball commit was one of the area’s top performers last season, averaging over 25 points and helping lead the Bucs to a sectional appearance.
Coach Herman Rice says that senior Ben Vargo will be counted on heavily for both scoring and rebounding as well as Joseph Kent.
The Bucs are young with not a lot of returning varsity experience, but Rice says he’s excited about the group he has.