Cherokees compete in Knoxville tourney

Greenback School's Blaine Mashburn goes up for a shot Dec. 13 against Hancock County High School.

The Greenback School Cherokees basketball team (1-8, 1-2 District 2-1A) competed in a three-day Christmas tournament at Berean Christian School in Knoxville.

The Cherokees dropped the first two games to James Frank White Academy and Campbell County High School, respectively.

Greenback head coach Bryan Powers was pleased with his team's competitiveness Saturday against the Berean Christian Eagles, but the Cherokees still fell 54-41.

"I mean, we've been competitive this week," he said. "(Saturday) I just felt like we ... if we played like we did the last two nights, we're fine tonight. I don't know if our legs were tired or what, we've just got to work, we've got to get back in the gym. I use that excuse, I know, but we've just not had the gym time. We'll get back in the gym Monday and go from there and see what happens."

The Cherokees took an 11-9 lead heading into the second quarter before the Eagles stormed back and took a five-point lead at the half. Freshman Conner Morton kept the Cherokees alive with his four three-pointers, but the Eagles poured on 22 points in the fourth.

"Conner's a freshman, and of course, he's played a lot of basketball you can tell," Powers said. "I'm really excited about having him for four years, but you know, we have to be careful not to expect him to do way too much. I think right now, he's having to do too much. I mean, he's slowing the game down, he's setting our offenses up and we've got older guys that I don't know if they know the offense or not. We go over them, we talk about them, we draw them up and it's just like a loss of words when we get out there. Conner's going to be a great player for us ... but we've got to take some of the load off him right now."

Hazen Carlton led the Cherokees with 13 points against Berean Christian and has been the team's leading post player so far this season.

The defensive lineman admits the transition from football has been challenging, but he believes the team is starting to come together in time for district play.

"I think our team's definitely grown a lot over the past three games just because we've started to figure out things that we need to work on and grow together as a team," Carlton said. "We need to come together and just figure out what our role is. Of course, it's rough because a lot of other schools, they've been practicing for a while. When we first come in from football to basketball, I know I've only had a couple of practices since coming in from football, so everybody else has been practicing for months. I've only had like four or five practices straight because of the games that were in midseason, so that's definitely a big factor."

The Cherokees are without returning starting forward Holden Willis who has a broken foot. Former center Derrell Bailey Jr. is not playing this year and will enroll at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in mid-January.

Carlton provides much-needed size and leadership in their absence.

"Of course, I feel like I've had to step up a little bit, but not just me, I feel like the whole team kind of needs to step up because it's a five-man game, not just one," he said. "It involves everybody passing the ball, shooting the ball, taking good shots and just playing together."

With only three varsity returnees, Powers admits inexperience has been a tough obstacle.

"We've just got to continue to grow, you know, we're inexperienced and got guys that have not had to play varsity ball," Powers said. "They're learning that they've got to devote some more time with film, they've got to spend more time with film. We've got to practice better, and we've got to take what we learn in practice to the game floor ... I don't think we did a good job at that. That might be me or I don't know exactly what that is, but we've got some stuff to fix. We've got some kids that need to figure out their roles, and that's a process and comes with time."

The Cherokees will return to District 2-1A action at 8 p.m. Friday at Cosby High School to take on the reigning district champion Eagles.