Scott County’s first-ever semi-pro basketball team started its season on Saturday with a 119-117 overtime victory over the Smoky Mountain Black Bears.
The Copperheads are a group of young men from across Kentucky and Tennessee and they compete in the National Professional Basketball Association (NPBA). They play their home games at the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau in Oneida.
After building a 28-point lead, the Copperheads were forced to find a way to pull out the win in overtime as JaRod Smith poured in six points in the extra period to put the game away. Smith finished with 25 points on the night.
“Smith stepped up big for us,” Copperheads coach Tim Branstetter said. “Things got a little intense when we were forced to go into overtime, but he responded like a team captain should. I couldn’t be more pleased with his effort.”
The Copperheads were led by Isaiah Johnson with 29 points as he did most of his damage in the second and third quarters. Johnson exploded with 24 points in the two quarters.
“Isaiah is one of the most gifted players I have been around,” Branstetter said. “He is known for his high-flying dunks, but it was his outside shot and a big rebound late that sealed the win for us. This guy has a big future.”
The game started off back and forth, but it was the Copperheads’ Wahkeem Simpson that made the difference with eight points in the first quarter to give his team a 27-22 advantage. Simpson finished the game with 17 points.
Johnson heated up in the second quarter with 12 points, but he wasn’t alone as Delo Graham came off the bench and sparked the Copperheads with 11 points, including two three-pointers. The Copperheads outscored the Black Bears 33-15 in the second quarter to take a 60-37 lead at the half.
“Delo really stepped in and took over the game for us,” Branstetter said. “I actually made a mistake and left him on the bench too long in the second half, but it’s a learning process. This is our first real game and we are all learning and getting better.”
The third quarter was split into two sections as the Copperheads started strong, but the Black Bears answered as both teams scored 29 points and the Copperheads held an 89-56 advantage heading in to the fourth period of play.
The Black Bears needed someone to step up and Kenny White answered the call. After only scoring six points in the first half, White scored 10 points in the third quarter and exploded in the fourth quarter. White poured in 21 points in the last 12 minutes of regulation to help send the game into overtime. The former Johnson University All-American finished with 44 points on the night.
Black Bears’ Markus Montague scored 17 points in the first three quarters, but was held to two points in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 19 points on the night. The 6’9 Black Bear recently signed a contract to play overseas in the Ecuader National Basketball League.
“Markus is a talented player,” Branstetter said. “He gave our bigs a real test in the paint and I couldn’t be more excited about the way JaRod and Wahkeem stepped up to the challenge. Both those guys are a pleasure to coach. I would like to wish Markus the best of luck overseas. He is a class act.”
Blake Davis and Kenndrick Henson also turned in solid performances for the Copperheads. They combined for 26 points and set the tone with their offense and court awarness. Henson finished with 14 points, while Davis added 12 points for the game.
“Having those two is like having two point guards on the floor at the same time,” Branstetter said. “They play completely different styles, but they are both competitors and they know the game of basketball. I don’t have a selfish player on this team and that is something most coaches can’t say. I would also like to mention Jeremy “Ta-Ta” Caldwell. That guy came off the bench and changed everything. His bulldog style defense really sparked us and the rest of the team fed off of that.”
The Copperheads will host the Knox County (Ky.) Lakers on Saturday, July 28 at the Boys & Girls Club.