Notebook: Yaden’s Tigers a force to be reckoned with

Directly Above Of Ball On Hardwood Floor

Don’t look now, but it appears that Sunbright is once again going to be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, as second-year head coach Rusty Yaden again has the Tigers knocking off teams they aren’t supposed to beat.

Three days after shocking Oneida on the road by roaring back from a 12-point halftime deficit, Sunbright earned its first win over rival Wartburg in 15 years by defeating the Bulldogs at home on Friday. That was especially important because Wartburg entered Friday’s game unbeaten in district play and is expected by many to be the favorite to win the district this year.

Yaden’s first Sunbright team went all the way to last year’s district championship game before losing to Wartburg.

What the former Oneida boys coach has managed to do with a traditionally downtrodden Sunbright program is nothing short of miraculous. Yaden, who assisted Jordan Jeffers on the Sunbright boys staff for two years after being fired by Oneida, has almost instantly transformed a team that had long been an afterthought in district play.

The final chapter of this year’s season is obviously a long way from being written. Sunbright still has to travel to Wartburg and host Oneida, and that’s before the teams gather at Roane State Community College in Harriman for the postseason tournament. But by knocking off the district’s top two teams in a 72-hour span, the Tigers have proven that they can play with — and beat — anybody in the league.

THERE MAY NOT BE A RECORD in Tennessee high school basketball that is more deceiving than Scott High’s. The Highlanders enter Friday’s game at Kingston with a record of 5-11, and are still looking for their first win in District 4-AA play. But if anyone looks at that record and gets caught sleeping on the Highlanders, they’re probably going to regret it.

Scott lost to Knox Central in overtime Saturday, 67-63. One night before that, they had Campbell County in a virtual tie going into the fourth quarter before losing by eight. They played Class AAA Lenoir City to the wire in the Anderson County Christmas Tournament last month, and played Mark Eldridge’s strong Class AAA Maryville team close in the same tournament. Against District 4’s top two teams, Fulton and Alcoa, the Highlanders have been close enough to be within striking distance throughout. That was especially true against Fulton, a game in which the Falcons needed a 28-point third quarter to truly take control after the Highlanders led early.

The only district game Scott has lost by a decided margin was against Austin-East — and that one was a close game until the fourth quarter began, with the Highlanders leading for a good portion of the first half. The Highlanders’ Christmas tournament game against Class AAA South Doyle was much closer than the 45-28 score indicated, and Cumberland Gap needed a last-second 3-pointer to beat the Highlanders by one point as November ended.

Jordan Jeffers’ team strolled into Knoxville last year and led defending state champ Fulton for three quarters in the Region 2-AA quarterfinals. At the time, it was evident that this Highlander team was a lot closer to being where it would like to be than anyone gives it credit for. Fast-forward to January 2018, and it’s still evident. The Highlanders have been unable to get over the hump to this point, but at some point, you just get the feeling that things are going to tip in their direction, and they’re going to spring a big upset against someone.

In the meantime, finding a way to get by suddenly surging arch-rival Kingston this week would be a huge win and would prove that the Highlanders are poised to get back to the regionals again this season.

KENNY BURCHFIELD — the owner of Levi’s Sports Bar & Grill and the former mayor of Winfield — may have said it best: “Looks like we are learning how to dribble a football, huh?”

For years, Tennessee fans have responded to Kentucky fans after basketball losses by telling them to just wait until football season. It’s easy trash talk since Tennessee has traditionally dominated the football series with the Wildcats.

But times are changing a bit. Tennessee’s basketball team has won four of its last five meetings against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena. In fact, UT head coach Rick Barnes has never lost to John Calipari and the Wildcats in Knoxville.

No SEC team has beaten Kentucky more over the years than Tennessee, but that stat is more impressive if you don’t see the series record. Kentucky has traditionally owned Tennessee just as it has owned the rest of the conference, winning 151 of 221 games against the Vols.

But Tennessee fans are feeling a little extra cocky after the Vols have won three of their last five against Kentucky. That’s something not even Bruce Pearl could accomplish. Until Saturday, it hadn’t been done since Jerry Green’s Vols won three of four against the Wildcats in 1999 and 2000.

There was a time during the end of the Ray Mears era and the start of the Don DeVoe era in the late 1970s that Tennessee won nine of 11 games against Kentucky. In fact, over the course of 13 seasons from 1973 to 1985, the Vols were 16-10 against the Wildcats.

No one seriously believes that we’re headed for a repeat of that era, just as no one seriously believes that we will return to the 1950s, which saw Kentucky go 8-3-2 against Tennessee in football.

But, in the meantime, it’s interesting that Tennessee has learned to dribble a football . . . while Kentucky fans, remembering their 29-26 win over the Vols last Halloween weekend, are the ones saying, “Wait until football season!”

Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.