The Loudon High School Redskins basketball team concluded December with three consecutive District 5-2A wins and is looking to continue riding that wave of momentum heading into a crucial January.
Following the cancellation of the Lenoir City High School Christmas Tournament, LHS head basketball coach Josh Graves decided to schedule a game Dec. 29 against the Gatlinburg-Pittman High School Highlanders in hopes of keeping the team fresh.
The move paid off as the Redskins pulled out a tough 60-58 win to improve to 6-2 on the season.
“I thought it was a great win for our program,” Graves said. “They were down a couple of guys, but they’re a solid team, humongous, have great size and are athletic and have really good guard play and are well-coached. I thought it was a great game for us to pick up. We were down eight with about three minutes left and we got pretty gutsy there, made a couple of buckets, made a couple of turnovers in our press. We made some instinctive basketball plays, and I was really proud of our fight.”
The Highlanders went into a zone defense down the stretch.
Graves entrusted veteran senior point guard Donavon Blankenship with the ball in the waning moments, and he came through with a game-winning basket.
“It was a big win because it was over Christmas break, which most of the time, that’s when people get rusty and get out of shape,” Blankenship said. “For us to come in there and beat a pretty good Gatlinburg-Pittman team, I just felt like that gave us some confidence. For me scoring those points, I felt like we need somebody to score because we were having a little bit of trouble. I guess some of my shots just started falling a little bit.”
The Redskins picked up consecutive District 5-2A wins over Sequoyah, Polk County and McMinn Central prior to the break, but unlike some teams, Graves views the second half of the season as a continual building process rather than a restart.
“I think early we had a little bit of rust, so yeah, we were a little sluggish and that’s OK,” he said. “In a sense it’s like starting over, but I also feel like we need to build. Defensively, I feel like we’ve been pretty tough so far and we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing. Offensively, we’ve got to take that next step and be more fluid. We know that the junk defenses are going to come and things of that nature, people are going to take away Donavon a second time and so our supporting cast has got to step up. We’ve got to build on what we’ve done so far and we can’t get complacent.”
The coaching staff has been pleased with the growth of the team, but one of the biggest surprises has been senior forward Haden Houser.
Houser was one of a handful that made the quick transition from football to basketball early in the season, and he’s proven a force in the paint and a viable scoring threat on the offensive glass.
“I didn’t get to play last year, so I kind of had to improve a lot,” Houser said. “Mainly, my role is to hit big shots and play good defense. It was pretty tough because we weren’t in basketball shape, we were in football shape. After the first couple of games, we were able to get back into it.”
The Redskins will host the fourth district game of the season at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Meigs County High School Tigers.
“These next two weeks are huge, and we need a good showing,” Graves said. “We’ve got Meigs for the first time Friday. I have film, but I haven’t watched it yet so I don’t really know what to expect there yet. I know their personnel, and they have some guys they got back that’s really going to help them. It’s going to be tough, and January is a busy month. It’s definitely going to be the epitome of a grind, that’s for sure.”
The next two weeks will be critical for Loudon as the Redskins will run through a tough district gauntlet against Sweetwater, Polk County and McMinn Central, along with non-district games against athletic Kingston and Maryville Christian squads.
“We expect to win every single one of them because we know that district play this year, all of them are pretty competitive,” Blankenship said. “Every single district game we want to play, we want to win it. We’re going to try to win those every single night.”