On Monday, Oak Ridge Coach Aaron Green said the football players who have started playing basketball showed a “little bit of rust” in a 75-36 drubbing of Clinton. By Tuesday, it appeared that those players had shaken off some of that rust in a more competitive 77-65 win over Powell.
The biggest improvement, at least in terms of scoring, came from 6-foot-6 junior center Darel Middleton, who was playing against his former team on Tuesday. On Monday at Clinton, Middleton had six points total, or less than one basket per quarter. On Tuesday at home against the Panthers, he had 18 points, a team high.
Middleton, who missed the opening games this season because of the football playoffs, also picked up six rebounds on Tuesday. Green said Middleton, who plays defensive end and wide receiver in football, is very athletic, can score inside, and is a great passer.
“His presence in there is a factor,” Green said.
The Wildcats basketball team started the season without seven players who were still competing in the Class 5A football playoffs. Besides Middleton, they included senior guard Ted Mitchell, junior guard Colton Wade, sophomore center Joey Kocak, sophomore guards Tee Higgins and DeMarea Whitt, and sophomore forward Tyshawn Young.
The team has only had three practices since the football season ended in a 35-21 quarterfinal loss at home against Rhea County on November 21.
Now that the football players have joined the squad, the Wildcats have about 10 players that could start each game, Green said. But the younger players who started the season continue in that role for now. That lineup includes junior forward Javien Johnson, junior guard Geevantay Gee (who was the only returning starter to play in the season-opener), and sophomore guards Tajion Jones, E.J. Bush, and DeAndre Gibson.
“Everything has to be earned,” Green said. “If they lose their starting spot, it will have to be taken from them.”
So far, Oak Ridge (8-0, 2-0 District 3-AAA) has picked up wins against Grace Christian, CAK, West, Maryville, Walker Valley, and Hamilton Heights Christian Academy Navy. Those are in addition to the two wins this week against Clinton and Powell, which were both district games.
The Wildcats play another district game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home against Halls.
Besides Middleton, other top scorers for Oak Ridge on Tuesday were Gibson with 14 points, including four three-pointers; Johnson with 11; and Bush with 10. Bush also had nine rebounds, and Johnson had five.
Mitchell, the most experienced Oak Ridge player, had four assists and only one turnover, Green said. Mitchell provided passes that led to several baskets by Middleton against both Clinton and Powell.
On Tuesday, Powell was led by juniors Charlie Richards with 18 points and Brandon Brown with 12. Oak Ridge led by as much as 19 points in the second half, but Richards helped cut into that lead with three three-point shots in about two minutes in the fourth quarter.
Powell (4-2, 2-1) came into the game with only one loss, and that was to a good Webb team.
Top scorers for Oak Ridge on Monday at Clinton were sophomore guard Anthony Gibson, who had 17; Higgins, who had 13, including a one-handed dunk to give the Wildcats a 19-point lead; and Gee, who had 11.
Green said the team still has work to do on conditioning.
“We’re still trying to get our football guys in shape,” he said after Monday’s win against the Dragons. But the team has a lot of depth, Green said.