When the Morristown West boys basketball team takes the court on Nov. 19 to begin their season against Grainger, those in the gym will be greeted with a completely different team than last year’s Trojan squad that made the Region 1-AAA Quarterfinals.
Morristown West graduated nine seniors from last year’s team and must rely on three returning players and callups from the JV team as they prepare to start their 2019-2020 campaign.
“We lost nine seniors, so our inability to have experience on the varsity level is probably our weakness as a program,” coach Johnathan Smith said. “We only return three guys on last year’s varsity team and only one guy who played primary minutes.”
That being said, Smith still sees a lot of potential with this year’s team. The Trojans are led by Trent Lovelace, who is their only returning starter.
Lovelace, a three sports athlete at Morristown West, is expected to have a breakout season and be the leader that a young team like the Trojans need.
“Trent is a great player,” Smith said. “He will be our leader on and off the court. He does a good job in the locker room, he’s an incredible athlete and has an incredible work ethic.”
Besides Lovelace, the rest of the team is an unknown. That doesn’t mean much to Smith, who feels his younger players will make a big impact early and often throughout the season.
Conner Patrick, Sawyer Smith and Chase Smith are all three seniors on the team who Smith expects to step up once the season begins, with Ryan Shafer and John Batts expected to be key contributors.
“We have a lot of kids who were JV kids and really improved their skill over the summer,” Smith said. “We will look to have kids contribute in spots where they have not had to contribute before, so that will be a big question mark for us, if kids are able come along as quick as we expect them to.”
For such a young team, the schedule gives them zero favors to start the year off. The Trojans take on Grainger to start the season before travelling to Knoxville to square off against CAK and Farragut in a Saturday double-header.
Morristown West added Clinton to their schedule on Jan. 11, who is expected to be at the top of their region with plenty of returning players. The Trojans play back-to-back games multiple times throughout the season and open up District 2-AAA play at home against rival Morristown East.
With such an unproven team, Smith is interested to see how they play early in the year against a schedule he calls one of the more rigorous ones he’s had.
“I think that we have to constantly get better and build a lot of confidence early,” Smith said. “That’s going to be our motto that we have to gain experience by finding small victories in every game and practice we have.”
As the beginning of the season inches closer, Smith has been impressed with his team’s ability to learn and improve already during practice as they prepare for Grainger.
The Trojans and Grizzlies face off on Nov. at 6 p.m. at Morristown West. While there are still questions about Morristown West heading into the season, Smith is excited to see them out on the court and get the campaign gets underway.
“I really don’t know what to expect, so I hope we just play hard, find a consistent effort on both ends of the floor and really get out in transition and try and keep the pace we want,” Smith said. “We’re going to be a high-tempo team that looks to exploit matchups in transition, so that’s what I hope to see.”