Countless hours of practice, conditioning and weight lifting culminated for the Loudon High School Redskins basketball team as it opened the season Nov. 17 with a 62-43 loss against the Anderson County High School Mavericks.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, summer workouts and practices were hard to come by. Since returning to school in August, the Redskins have been able to get back in the gym and transition into a “new normal.”
“All the COVID stuff, we’re going to scrimmage each other because we scrimmage anybody else,” Josh Graves, LHS head basketball coach, said. “We have to take temperatures and be extra careful. I feel like every post-practice speech I give is, ‘Keeping your distance and washing your hands and taking a shower when you get home.’ It stinks that that’s what I’m focusing on, but I know that those things are what’s going to keep us healthy, what keeps us full strength and, hopefully, helps us get to March.”
Another reason this offseason has been tough is team several key players are coming back from football. The Redskins opened against ACHS without returning players Donovan Blankenship, Keaton Harig, Haden Houser and Jackson Williams.
Getting those players in basketball shape must be quick.
“It’s been tough because we don’t really have any of our main guys because everybody’s in football right now,” Broady Harrison, senior forward, said. “We’re doing a lot of drill work and fundamental stuff, trying to help the younger kids and get them ready. We won’t have them for our first couple of games, so we’re going to have to step up.”
Since taking over the program in 2018, Graves has accumulated an overall record of 40-16 and has led the Redskins to two region quarterfinal appearances with talented rosters.
While this year’s roster may not boast the talent of the previous two, Graves believes this team can achieve just as much or more.
“I think this team brings a lot of toughness, a lot of communication because these guys have played together for a lot of years,” Graves said. “We’re going to be a little smaller than last year overall, but I think as a whole, we’re quicker and can get more lateral side to side. We do have some vertically athletic guys, but it’s going to be a quite a bit more of a faster pace than people were used to last year when they came to watch us. We’re excited about that, and I think our guys can succeed in that kind of style and play in that kind of style. We have big aspirations for getting over that region hump because we were very close with Red Bank last year.”
The Redskins will be led by All-Region point guard Blankenship. Last year, he led the team with 488 total points, 71 three-pointers and averaged 17.5 points per game.
“If you follow Loudon basketball, the guy that comes to mind is Donovan,” Graves said. “He’s a dude, and the physicality and explosion he’s getting from football is, in my opinion, is going to just take him to the next step. He’s tough, and I just think that all of these senior guys are going to contribute in some form or fashion, whether it’s shooting the ball, playing defensively. We’ve also got some juniors and sophomores that I think can really compete and give us some depth there.”
Other seniors, such as Harrison, Houser, Williams, Landon Mallo and Cy Massey, will be heavily relied on. Juniors Keaton Harig and Hayden Brown will provide valuable minutes.
Graves is also excited for several talented underclassmen, including Semy Turner, Braeden Fray, Jabe Watson and Sebastian Gonzalez.
“I think we’re going to be a fast team, and we’re going to get out and run,” Harrison said. “I’m probably going to be one of the tallest guys on the team, and I’m not that tall so we’re going to be little. I think we’re going to be pretty good shooters, I think we’re going to get to the rim a lot and I think we’re just going to be a fast-moving paced team. I think we can go far. I think we can win the district and we want to keep our eight-game streak against (Lenoir City High School) alive.”
The Redskins competed for the District 5-2A tournament championship last year but fell short against the Sweetwater High School Wildcats.
Loudon is again projected to finish in the top three of the district.
“I think we can compete and beat anybody in our district, but I also think it can go the other way, too,” Graves said. “I think our district is going to be pretty tough, and anybody — Meigs County, Sweetwater, McMinn Central, Polk County — is able to win any given night in the district. I like our experience, having a guy like Donovan who’s done it, having a guy like Broady and Jackson who played a lot of minutes down the stretch last year. Keaton had some time on and off last year, and I’m excited. I think we stack up well, but we can’t take a night off.”
The Redskins’ next game will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at home against the Greenback School Cherokees.