Category Archives: high school basketball

Veteran high school, college coach to take Indy girls helm

By Maurice Patton

After achieving record-setting success during a previous Williamson County stint, Tony Hill is set to return as girls basketball coach at Independence.

Hill will be the fourth different coach at the helm of the Lady Eagles in as many seasons. He succeeds Mary Beth White, who led the program on an interim basis in 2020-21 after Bryan Glasner – who took over for Whitney Baird at the end of the ’18-19 campaign – was unavailable and eventually resigned in February.

“We are very excited to welcome Tony Hill to ‘Indy Nation’,” Independence principal Niki Patton said in a prepared statement. “Coach Hill brings a tremendous amount of basketball experience from both the high school and college levels, and we believe his coaching skillset brings our girls basketball program what it needs to take that next step in becoming a championship caliber team.

“He is passionate about the game of basketball, but more importantly, he is passionate about facilitating success for our girls in both athletics and academics. We are thrilled that Coach Hill will be joining our school community and look forward to the future success of our program.”

Most recently a member of the girls basketball coaching staff at Riverdale, Hill led Centennial to a four-year record of 55-48 from 2013-17, with the Lady Cougars posting their first winning record (18-8) in 2015-16 followed by a 19-win performance a year later. That season saw the program’s first district tournament victory, its first district finals appearance, first region tourney berth, first region finals and first state sectional.

Two months later, Hill resigned to take over the girls program at Portland. He’s since spent a season at Huntland and the last two at Riverdale.

Tony Hill, announced Wednesday as girls basketball coach at Independence, meets with his new team. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve always had an eye on Independence,” Hill said. “I think that’s a job that’s a diamond in the rough, so to speak. I’ve always felt like you can win there. The pieces are in place – a great administration, a strong feeder program, … a lot of support from the community. I feel that’s a great place to coach girls basketball.

“With the realignment as it is now, you hope you can put yourself in a position to get to region play and make a run in the region tournament. When the opportunity presented itself, I reached out and was very excited to get the opportunity to be there. I’ve known a lot of those coaches for a long time. I can’t wait to work with them.”

Independence will compete for the next two seasons in District 12-AAAA, a five-team league with Columbia Central, Summit, Ravenwood and Nolensville. Presumably, the top four district tourney finishers will advance to regional play.

Hill said he intends to speak with assistants Jack Harlow and Dominique St. Louis and gauge their interest in continuing in those roles.

“We’re going to have a conversation and see where everybody’s head is. Certainly that’s a consideration,” Hill said regarding the return of Harlow, a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Hall of Fame inductee after winning 564 games at Franklin County, Columbia Central and Bradley Central. “I had the pleasure of meeting him at the State Farm Classic. He’s a great basketball guy, done a lot of great things.

“I would definitely want to sit down with him and Coach St. Louis and see if they’re interested in coming back.”.  

Prior to his 2013 arrival in Middle Tennessee, Hill had served as girls coach at Milan in West Tennessee, following collegiate head coaching stints at Lambuth University in Jackson – where he was named Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year in 2010 — and at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, Ind.

Girls basketball coaching hire delayed at Columbia Central

By Maurice Patton

COLUMBIA — Who’s in charge?

Seems to be a good question — on multiple levels — at Columbia Central, following the dismissal of girls basketball coach Joshua Bugg by then-principal Roger White, who has since been suspended.

The application process for the vacancy created by Bugg’s firing was supposed to have closed on Thursday (April Fool’s Day, by the way). With no one currently in place at the school level to lead the whittling-down, interviewing or hiring that would follow, however, the process continues on a “day-by-day” basis, according to Maury County Public Schools athletics director Chris Poynter.

To backtrack:

On March 5, Bugg was dismissed after four seasons at the Lady Lions’ helm – a decision based, White later said, on “insubordination”.

Three weeks later, on March 25, Jack Cobb of the MCPS communications department distributed a release confirming that White “has been suspended pending an investigation” in the aftermath of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s investigative report regarding the school’s cheer program, with Dr. Rose McClain named interim principal until the internal investigation concludes.

The Comptroller’s report resulted in the indictment of cheer coach Missy Todd on charges of Forgery, Theft and Tampering with or Fabricating Evidence.

On March 31, attempts to determine the impact of White’s suspension on the Central girls basketball hiring process prompted confirmation from Cobb that no hirings will take place “until the situation is resolved.”

Cobb further stated that “We can’t comment on the situation because it’s an active situation.”

The situation, apparently, is how White’s suspension is being characterized at the central office.

But the uncertainty of that situation is creating a trickle-down effect.

“With the status of the situation being day to day, it obviously slows down plans and progress for the program to be able to move forward, to be able to start putting pieces back together to make a run, to do great things in the fall and winter of the year,” said Poynter, who disclosed that more than a dozen individuals had applied for the position by week’s end.

“I think they do have an interim (coach) in place right now. That individual will have to take more of an active role in seeing that the team is fully prepared and ready through the spring, through the summer, and if it takes even longer, possibly the fall and going into the winter months as the season begins.

“(School) leadership and whoever is in the interim role will need to be able to try to start putting their heads together to have a contingency plan if this thing goes day to day far longer than anybody anticipated it being.”

Which is all great. Except – the “interim” coach, former assistant Carden Virgo, was never formally advised of her new role in the aftermath of Bugg’s dismissal.

“I’m just heading up the workouts, doing spring training,” Virgo said. “Megan (Kilburn, Lady Lion assistant) and I are doing that together. I’m just listed as the contact. No interim has been named.

“Right now, all we can focus on is our spring training, our weightlifting and conditioning and open gym. We’ve got a lot of kids playing AAU, a lot of kids in other sports. We’re getting them in the weight room, trying to work on their conditioning and their strength. That’s what Megan and I are doing, and it’s going really well.”

With Central set to play in a new district next season – 12-AAAA, with Independence, Nolensville, Ravenwood and Summit – scheduling looms as an issue. Virgo said she and boys coach Nick Campbell have been addressing that task.

“It’s about 75 percent complete. We’re still waiting on some teams to call us back about games,” she said.

Another item on the to-do list is summer camps, particularly after not participating in those last year because of the pandemic.

“I don’t know if that’s something we had already been registered to go to,” Virgo said. “I’m sure summer camps will take place. I haven’t looked into that yet.”

Virgo asserted that the current uncertainty has no impact on the program’s ability to build on an 18-12 finish – its first winning campaign since 2013-14 – and a region tourney berth for the first time in six years.

“We have four seniors coming up, we’ve got a slew of underclassmen that are ready to play and are playing AAU to get ready to play next year,” she said. “We’re still rolling with our momentum. Our kids have their own personal goals for next year and I know they want to go further in the regional tournament. We’ll be competing in that new district, so that’ll be different. But we haven’t lost our momentum.

“Basketball is basketball, sports are sports no matter who the coach is.”

That’s a good thing, since “who the coach is” threatens to be a question for an indefinite period of time at Columbia Central.

“My hope is that some level of resolution regarding the situation comes to a conclusion sooner than later,” Poynter said. “That way everybody can move on and move forward. However, if this thing does carry out, Central High School has to be prepared for that, … to make sure the young ladies who are returning for next year really don’t get slighted because there is a delay and they still have individuals around them who are still caring and preparing them for next season.

“To have what has transpired and the change that has occurred for girls basketball at Columbia Central is huge. I don’t think anybody wants a setback at this point.”

Mt. Pleasant boys and girls basketball coaches dismissed

By Maurice Patton

Spring Break didn’t get off to such a great start for Chris Carney and Amy Odom.

The Mt. Pleasant boys and girls basketball coaches were each dismissed from those positions Thursday – the final day of classes for Maury County Public Schools until April 12 — ending their two-year tenures.

“Thinking long-term of the program, we know the talent we have, the talent we have coming up,” principal Ryan Jackson said in confirming the decisions. “You have to assess the goals you have for the program.

“We’re still talking about the ‘championship mindset’. We’re excited about the future. We understand it’s a process, and we’re going to work the process.”

Mt. Pleasant will open the 2021-22 boys basketball campaign with its fifth coach in six years, following Chris Carney’s dismissal Thursday after two seasons. Lady Tigers second-year coach Amy Odom was also dismissed by the school’s administration. (Photo by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports)

Carney, named in April 2019 to replace former interim coach Cory Armstrong, led the Tigers to a 30-27 record over two seasons. Mt. Pleasant reached the Region 5-A tournament semifinals in 2020, finishing 21-10, and went 9-17 this past year with a region quarterfinal berth.

“We met at the end of the day. They explained they wanted to take the program in a different direction,” he said. “I told them I appreciated the time, that I’d continue the year teaching, and I walked out.

“I’m looking forward to getting some family time and Spring Break.”

Carney had previously spent three years at Wilson Central and four at Portland, compiling a 67-130 mark.

“I think that speaks to the level of talent you have,” Jackson said at the time regarding Carney’s prior track record. “One thing we’ve never lacked is athletes. I think this is an exciting opportunity for him to put his influence and coaching style on some of the best athletes in Maury County.”

Odom, who succeeded Jim Hamilton after previously serving as his assistant, won six games in two seasons with the Lady Tigers.

Jackson said no timetable for hiring the next coaches had been established, but the process will begin immediately.

With those moves, there are four area basketball coaching vacancies. Both Culleoka and Columbia Central are in search of girls basketball coaches as well, following the resignation of Lady Warriors coach Derrick Adkison and the dismissal of Lady Lions coach Joshua Bugg.

Work of art: Lady Raider guard uncovers tattoo at Saturday all-star game

By Maurice Patton

MURFREESBORO — Bill Jennings and Chad Hall always wanted their daughter and standout basketball player, respectively, to draw attention for the right reasons.

And neither of them thought a tattoo would accomplish that objective.

But soon after her 18th birthday last summer, Richland guard Jesse Jennings went against the wishes of both her dad and her coach and got inked – intending to honor her grandmother, Kay Jennings, who had been in failing health for an extended period of time and died less than a month later, without ever seeing her granddaughter’s visual tribute.

“My grandmother battled COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung ailment) for as long as I can remember,” Jesse said between contests at the BCAT All-Star Game, held Saturday at Blackman High School. “She was diagnosed with lung cancer this past May. She loved roses, she loved flowers, gardening. I just told myself I was going to get that for her.

“She passed away Aug. 21, a little less than a month after I got it. She didn’t get to see it. It just really means a lot to me because (we) were very close.”

Richland’s Jesse Jennings shucked the sleeve she wore on her left arm through her senior season, exposing a tattoo of a rose she got last summer, in honor of her grandmother, during Saturday’s BCAT All-Star Game in Murfreeesboro. (Photo by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports)

The rose on Jennings’ left forearm hardly defines her – especially compared to the 2,345 points she scored over her five-year Lady Raider career or the person or teammate she proved herself to be over that timeframe and beyond.

Still, two of the most important adults in her life wanted to make sure that wouldn’t be the case.

“What I didn’t want it to do was put a negative light on what Jesse had to offer or do on the basketball court, or on our team,” Hall said. “She loves and would do everything in her power to make our team look better in every situation, instead of draw attention to herself. I think that was it, more than anything else.

“I didn’t want a school to come in and say ‘she’s got a tattoo; we’re out of here’. I didn’t want an 18-year-old young lady to be judged by a choice she’d made that others may not feel the same way about.”

“You can’t wash that off,” Bill Jennings echoed. “You go into a job interview, people see that – my age and older – even though it doesn’t make you a bad person, they tend to think it does. That’s just the perception of things. Those are the people that are going to be deciding if you get the job or not.”

Playing for the Mid-South Stars, Richland senior guard Jesse Jennings scores on a layup during Saturday’s BCAT All-Star Game at Blackman High School. (Video by Maurice Patton / SM-Tn Sports)

It’s those type reactions, or the possibilities thereof, that prompted Jennings to wear a black neoprene sleeve over the tattoo this past season.

“It was to keep people from taking about it or me getting in trouble for it or somebody pointing it out, like a fan saying something or me getting in trouble with a ref,” she said.

At this weekend’s all-star event, though, her teammates encouraged her to let it show.

“I was showing some of the people I was playing with; they were like ‘don’t wear it’, ‘I think tattoos are cool’, so I didn’t wear (the sleeve),” she said.

Coming off the bench for both contests – “that’s probably the most I’ve sat since the beginning of middle school,” she said – Jennings scored three points in the Mid-South team’s 87-69 loss to the East stars and two in a 68-63 win over the West.

“Playing with all these people up here was really, really fun,” she said. “It was a lot of good basketball, a lot of good players. I think this weekend is just about having fun, getting to play, having the chance for colleges to see other people.

“I’m just glad I was invited.”

The next step for Jennings and her area-leading 23.6-point scoring average will be Alabama-Huntsville, as she recently committed to the NCAA Division II Lady Chargers.

“I love the coaches. It kinda felt like home,” she said. “Obviously me and Coach Hall are very close. That player/coach relationship I’m probably not going to find anywhere else, but it really felt like they cared about more than just basketball.”

“I think they got a steal, and after talking with Jesse, that’s probably exactly where she ought to be,” Hall said. “She doesn’t want to go a long way from home. We’re an hour away from UAH, her family can see her and she can be out of the house as well, rather than being in her back yard or being five hours away.”

And as for the tattoo? During games, it’ll probably go back under cover going forward.

“I think I’m going to go with the longsleeve undershirt,” Jennings said. “I still plan to cover it up.”

Clark steps down at Lawrence County after 20 seasons

Shaen Clark, who won 325 games in 20 seasons as boys basketball coach at Lawrence County, has resigned that position, school officials announced Wednesday.

Shaen Clark (left), pictured with former Lawrence County boys basketball assistant and current Columbia Central coach Nick Campbell prior to a January 2019 contest, announced his resignation Wednesday as coach of the Wildcats after 20 years. (Courtesy photo by Rob Fleming)

“After much thought and prayer, I have decided to step down as boys head basketball coach at our beloved Lawrence County High School,” Clark said in a release distributed by school officials.

“I would like to thank all the Lawrence County School Board members, multiple directors, and numerous LCHS administrators and staff who have been so very supportive of me since returning home to LCHS in August 1997! Mr. Dunn, Coach Weathers, Mr. Butch Morrow and our LCSS board members gave a young coach a great opportunity!

“I’ve been extremely blessed to get to coach ‘purple collar’ guys with unbelievably supportive parents at a school in the greatest community imaginable. Thank you Lawrence County and all of the lifelong friends I have gained! My blood will always run purple and gold! In the words of our beloved Daddy Mick, ‘We are family’!”

Over two stints as boys basketball coach at his high school alma mater, Clark led the Wildcats to five district championships, 17 region tournament appearances, nine region tourney victories and three sectional berths.

“Coaching at this level demands a great deal of one’s time and energy and an unspoken sacrifice,” read the release. “This was a tough decision for Coach Clark. Although we are saddened by his decision, we fully support him and are pleased that he will remain a member of the faculty.

“On behalf of our Director of Athletics Mr. Matt Calvert, the administrative team, the faculty, staff, and athletic department, former players and supporters of the program, we extend our appreciation and wish him and his family continued success.”

Independence goes west for new boys basketball coach

By Maurice Patton

Mark Wilkins, who has led South Gibson to three Class AA state sectional appearances in the last four seasons, will be the successor to Doug Keil atop the Independence boys basketball program.

“There were a lot of outstanding coaches interested in this position, but we feel Coach Wilkins is a home-run hire and a great addition to our community,” Independence principal Niki Patton said in announcing the move Wednesday.

“(Wilkins) is not only a winning coach but will be an inspiring coach for our players. His commitment and passion for the game, along with his integrity, is a winning combination that will strengthen our basketball program and support our efforts to ensure student success in athletics and academics.”

Wilkins, who played for his father, Mitch, at Henry County before graduating from Lipscomb University in 2012, spent three seasons as an assistant at Beech – under current Williamson County Schools athletics director Darren Joines – prior to taking the position at South Gibson.

In six seasons at the Medina, Tenn., school, he posted a 112-68 record, leading the Hornets to District 13-AA championships each of the last two years.

His is a coaching family, as brothers David and John are also high school coaches in West Tennessee in addition to their father, who led Gibson County to the Class A girls basketball state tournament earlier this month. Mitch has won more than 900 games with the Lady Pioneers, at Henry County and in the Missouri boys ranks. David is the girls coach at Huntingdon, while John just completed his first season as boys and girls coach at McKenzie.

“My family and I are extremely excited to be joining the Independence family,” said Wilkins, referring to his wife, Abbey, and 11-month-old son John David (the couple is expecting again in September). “We love our South Gibson community, and we are so thankful for our time in Medina.

“However, we believe that Independence is truly a special place, and we feel a call to this community.”

The Independence position became vacant when Keil abruptly resigned in early February – ending his Eagle head coaching tenure after two-plus seasons with a 29-43 record. Jeff Parker was named to replace Keil on an interim basis and led the team to a 2-2 mark en route to a 10-11 finish.

“In this particular case, I knew several of the candidates and I thought they were all great candidates,” Joines said. “They made the decision and they hired a great coach.

“I am super excited about (Wilkins) being in this district. He is a rising start. He’s already one, if you ask me. He’s always been older than his age, in all the right areas. He’s a great promoter of his program.”

Meanwhile, Independence’s search for a girls coach continues. Bryan Glasner, hired in March 2019, resigned in February after an investigation that began prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. Athletics director Mary Beth White led the Lady Eagles in an interim role this past campaign.