December 18, 2018

Times-Georgian profiles Brave turnaround in hoops

Article written by Corey Cusick and courtesy of The Times-Georgian

(Franklin) — The rise of the Heard County High School boys’ basketball program has continued its ascent under the direction of Keith Simmons.

Despite being the third different head coach in three years, Simmons has the Braves climbing the ranks in Class AA on the eve of Region 5-AA tipping off when the calendar flips to January.

Already off to a 9-3 start, highlighted by a third-place showing at the 2016 SMI Carroll County Christmas Classic, Heard County returns a deep and experienced roster that has battled through the adversity of the coaching changes with a focus on making the state playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Simmons said it’s truly been night and day even since the start of this season to how far the guys have come.

“It’s not even close. It’s not even close to the same team. Looking at literally we were down 26 points in the first half of the first game to Upson-Lee to now a battle-tested group that is able to take a punch in the mouth and still recover,” Simmons said. “We’re starting to believe on the defensive end. We boxed out a lot better than we have from the beginning. This is the time you want to start getting that together so you can go into region play clicking on all cylinders.”

Brave head coach Keith Simmons (Photo: Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian)

Brave head coach Keith Simmons (Photo: Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian)

The Braves feature a unique mixture of talents and moving parts. In the backcourt, senior point guard Dekari Brewer is back as a key catalyst, while Tray Dunson, Darius Matthews, Emory Jones and Alijah Huzzie also serve as integral pieces to the rotation.

Leading the charge in the frontcourt are seniors Jordarius Foster, Christian Murray and Torrence Allen, along with sophomore Tay Watson.

What makes this unit tough to match up with is the fact that Simmons can throw several different looks at any given opponent due to the versatility of his players.

“We’ve got some tweeners that can help us so much. Emory can go guard-forward, Christian can go guard-forward and then when you need to go big you’ve got Torrence, you’ve got Jordarius and you’ve got Tay,” Simmons said.

“So I think wherever the mismatch is, we have something that we feel we can exploit. I think that’s something special. Everybody doesn’t have that. Most teams can go one way. I think we can run, I think we can pack it in, I think we can go slow. We can do a little bit of everything. It just depends on the given night and what we need. If the kids buy into that full-throttle, I think we’ll be dangerous down the stretch.”

Perhaps what is even more valuable right now than the talent is the chemistry that this group is developing. Simmons stressed that the better it gets, the more Heard County can achieve in 2016-17.

“A lot of them are thirsty for that knowledge. And, more importantly, we’re starting to hold each other accountable. I don’t want to be standing over you telling you everything to do. When we do certain things, I ought to be able to tell you what needs to be done and they get it done. I think that’s what we’re doing. A lot better communication and jelling as a group,” Simmons said.

With Region 5-AA play tipping off on Jan. 3 at Callaway, the meat of the season has arrived for Heard County. With some quality programs such as Temple, Callaway and Jordan spearheading the charge, the Braves expect a dogfight every time out.

“Temple won that [Christmas] tournament, so that gave them a lot of energy, a lot of momentum going forward. It’s kind of a gift and a curse. We got third place, but me and [Temple] coach [David] Cottrell talked, we didn’t want to play each other. Nobody wants to play each other in a non-region before region starts,” Simmons said of a potential matchup with the Tigers in the SMI Christmas Classic.

“It would have been a vanilla game. But they played well and I think on any given night, anybody can get beat in the region. But I think that’s good for the state, you can never take a night off. In some regions, some people just go through slapping it up and then get to the state tournament and get hit upside the head one good time and you’re sitting at home.”

But with all the pieces to the puzzle beginning to fall into place, Simmons truly believes there is something special brewing for Braves’ basketball in 2016-17.

“I would like to take credit for that, but that’s the kids. They’re working as hard as they can and they’re communicating. They’re doing everything they need to do,” Simmons said. “I’m just happy to be along for the ride with them.”

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