Simmons Says - Can't wait for winter to come
Not to sound too much like the Starks, but winter is coming. I’m really looking forward to it too – and it has nothing to do with getting out of these 100-degree days.
For years, I’ve been focused on going season-by-season for sports. There’s just too much going on during one season to be worried about the next and I like making sure I’m giving as much coverage as possible to teams that are in action every night. Right now though, I can’t help but think about basketball season as we all sweat through humid nights on the diamond.
With all the news coming out of AAU and summer camps right now, it’s going to be true battle for Warren County’s Iron Throne this winter when it comes to the best local basketball teams. Just like last season, the WCHS Lady Pioneers and Boyd Lady Broncos are making a lot of noise, while the WCHS Pioneers look to be on the rise once again.
I’ve already done a story on the Lady Pioneers and we had an excellent on-the-scene podcast with Boyd coach Tim Page, so I want to start with the fighting Danny Fishes. The boys basketball team just shut down for dead period after an amazing run through June, one that featured the varsity team going 10-1 and the JV posting a 7-2 record. That’s an outstanding debut for the new coach who seems like he’s made an instant connection with the local talent.
While people can surely nitpick summer camps, I don’t think there’s any way you can downplay the fact the Pioneers just won 17 games in the span of three weeks after winning 10 games during the entire 2021-22 season. That’s an incredible bounce-back performance, made even better when you realize a couple of those wins came after practicing with coach Fish for one day.
I’ve been very impressed with coach Fish and his instant passion for Warren County basketball. The longtime Tiger didn’t take long to trade in the black and gold for the red, white and blue. Right now, he’s blazing his own trail and leading young men like a true Pioneer. He seems to be loving it too.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Fish about wrapping up summer camp. “The boys worked extremely hard to buy into the We/Me philosophy and we have come a long way. I appreciate all the parents and their kind words and actions over the past couple of weeks. It has made my transition easier.
“My hope is that we will continue to work for each other, continue to grow as a team and continue to grow as young men. It’s a long way until February – what we do between now and November matters. You can’t cheat the grind.”
The current group of Pioneers have never lacked for talent – there’s a reason Warren County was picked as the preseason favorite to win District 6-4A last year. Cohesion has always been the question mark and it seems like coach Fish had the Pioneers playing together this summer while adapting quickly to his frantic, defense-first and pressure-always style of play.
As pumped up as I am about the varsity putting up some jaw-dropping win totals (and big-time blowouts against other Midstate teams), the JV record may excite me more. I’ve been telling people for the last 18 months that this current group of freshmen has a chance to be special. Nothing they’ve done this summer has swayed me from that opinion.
If anything, I was more reassured when I heard Carter Simpson was in the fold and newcomer Devin Fish (coach Danny Fish’s son) was as advertised – adding a knockdown shooter with a deadly floater to what Warren County was already building jumped this group to another level. Simpson, Fish and former Morrison guard Isaiah Robledo is a pretty deadly backcourt.
Also, for the casual basketball fans who just like to come to the games to see a few highlights, just know that 6-foot-4 freshman post Chance Whitlock has already been caught throwing down dunks during practice time for the Pioneers, so we may have a new rim-rattler at Charlie Dalton Gym soon.
Even at 17-3, the Pioneer boys may not be the headliner for basketball this summer. The Lady Pioneers aren’t just picking up where they left off in February, they’re off to the races and building some otherworldly expectations for 2022-23.
I already knew the hype train had left the station when I started getting some messages from the road that the Warren County girls were laying waste to opposing teams in Lebanon, but coach Anthony Lippe’s group is now grabbing state headlines. Our WCSA Twitter account was tagged over the weekend in a post by the TN Report where they were ranking Warren County as one of the top seven teams in AAAA in their early rankings for 2022-23.
I love it for the Lady Pioneers, who deserve all the recognition in the world for their complete 180 from a two-win team in 2019-20 to a 24-win group just last season. I also know that preseason rankings mean nothing, no matter how many eyeballs they can get and clicks they garner for media outlets (I’m guilty of the same overblown hype from time to time). Right now, the Lady Pioneers don’t need to be thinking about being a top five team in the state – the focus needs to be on being the top team in District 6-4A (not a small task given Coffee County’s looming presence).
Coach Lippe is the perfect person to be in place for something like this too. He’s not somebody who is going to let press clippings stop his team’s upward trajectory going into what could be a magical winter. I talked to him this week and he was only focused on playing as many good teams as possible and getting his team more and more experience against top programs.
The Lady Pioneers lost by one to Blackman (a perennial state powerhouse) and Pikeville, Ky. (a Sweet 16 team) and were within five against Bradley Central in the final three minutes before falling by 10 (The Bearettes eliminated WC in the region semifinals last season). Warren County, winners of 17 games this summer, just beat Gatlinburg Pittman (a top AA team) and Sparkman, Al. (26-5 last year) this week.
Mia Hobbs, Kyra Perkins, Shelby Smartt Brienne Kelsey, Savannah Winfree and Sable Winfree feel like they qualify for Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ theory at this point. Gladwell wrote in his best-selling book that most people, to obtain world-class expertise, need to spend 10,000 hours on their craft. They haven’t individually logged 10,000 hours as Lady Pioneers, but collectively, it feels like the core of next year’s team has surpassed the mark and hit a level of connection few teams possess.
As for the Lady Broncos, I got a first-hand look at their rebuild in Kentucky this week. I traveled with the team as Boyd took part in the Murray State basketball camp, one that featured some of the best teams from the Bluegrass state as well as a few surrounding states. From conversations with many families and coaches with other teams, I found out quickly Boyd was the smallest school in attendance (some groups had rosters with more girls than Boyd has enrolled in grades 9-12 next year).
Coming off a 36-4 year that didn’t end with a conference or NACA title, coach Tim Page wanted to make sure his team got exposed to top talent early this year. He’s already scheduled a ton of TSSAA schools next year (nearly half their schedule will be against public schools, including some ‘Boro teams) and were facing groups in Kentucky that were 20-win teams last season.
Boyd lost more games in three days in Kentucky than it did all last season, but I think it’ll be good for the girls in the long run. They got more competitive day-by-day and game-by-game in Kentucky, ultimately leaving with a pair of wins and were a buzzer beater away from another victory on Thursday. It was even more impressive considering they had to carry me on the bench on the final day (the normal assistant couldn’t stay, so I volunteered to take the seat in case something happened to coach Page during the game – thankfully it didn’t).
I even earned the nickname “Jeffery No Wins,” for my troubles. As any good coach knows, it’s your fault when you lose, while the kids are always responsible for the victories. I wouldn’t consider myself a good coach – or a coach at all – but I’ll fall on the sword for Boyd’s unfortunate final day. Fortunately, they’ll have their full staff and full roster back by this winter.
Like everybody else, I’m going to enjoy the dead period and the Fourth of July in the next few weeks, but my mind will always be drifting back to the hardwood all summer. It won’t be long until we’re back in the air conditioning and seeing local kids swishing shots and making memories.