CHURCH HILL – Volunteer head coach Mike Poe sees potential in his boys basketball team.
While that potential may not bear fruit right away, the veteran coach in his second season at Volunteer believes it will come someday.
“We’re going to be better,” Poe said last week prior to the Falcons’ play in the jamboree. “Whether or not that translates into wins and losses, I don’t know, because we’ve got a lot of young kids who need to play. But they’ve got some talent.
“They’ve got some skills. They can run, pass, dribble and shoot,” said Poe, who should know talent when he sees it.
Prior to last season, Poe spent the previous 14 years as head basketball and golf coach at Tennessee Wesleyan College. Under his leadership, the Bulldogs collected six conference championships, three conference tournament championships and appeared in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Basketball Tournament five times.
He was named Coach of the Year three times with a collegiate record of 251-186 making him the second winningest coach in Tennessee Wesleyan history.
A Church Hill native and graduate of Church Hill High School, Poe started his coaching career at Meigs County High School as an assistant in 1981, becoming head coach in 1984. He then led the Tigers to the state semifinals in 1985 and 1986. His teams appeared in the state tournament four consecutive years during his tenure.
He was named Coach of the Year in 1985, 1986 and 1987. After spending the 1987-88 season at Volunteer High School, he took over at David Crockett High School in 1988 and led the Pioneers to the state tournament in 1990 and earned a conference championship in 1995, also earning Coach of the Year honors.
In 1996, Poe joined the staff of George Pitts at Science Hill and became the head coach when Pitts moved on to the collegiate ranks in 1999. Poe was named Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year in 2000, 2003 and 2004 with a record of 144-35. Poe’s Toppers made three TSSAA State Tournament appearances while finishing as the 2002 TSSAA 3A runner up.
Volunteer lost five seniors to graduation last year – Chance Johnson, Hunter Skelton, Leyton Patrick, Ethan Dean and Creed Christian – on a team that went 6-23 last season, 2-10 in the Big 7.
Poe is looking forward to this season, despite being a young squad.
“Attitudes have been great,” he said. “They’ve been practicing really hard. The first couple of weeks have been really good for us. I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ve got four seniors: Dakota Hicks, Brody Hunley, Zack Evans and Luke Bellamy. Then we’ve got all these kids who were on our junior varsity team last year that are juniors: Evan Berry, Eli Amyx, then we’ve got some sophomores, Garrison Barrett, Jon Wes Lovelace and Heath Miller, and then the freshmen, Bradin Minton and Andrew Knittel.
“They’re going to have to play. There’s going to be a lot of times when we have freshmen and sophomores on the floor, but it is what it is. I’d rather be in that position now, than what I inherited last year. Last year was tough. But we’ve turned the page and hopefully we’re going to start building it from the bottom and move forward from there,” Poe said.
The Falcons will rotate a lot of players this season.
“We’re going to play a lot. We’ve got 11 or 12 guys we’re going to play and we’re going to try to play up-tempo and let these kids try to improve and get them all on the floor as much as we can,” Poe said.
While the Falcons will play more up-tempo, they do possess some size in the 6-6 Amyx and 6-5 Barrett.
“Amyx is 6-6 and he’s improved tremendously,” Poe said. “He runs a lot better and has gotten a little stronger. Garrison has grown a little bit. He was hurt the entire year last year. He broke a toe in the first scrimmage of the year and never got healthy the entire year. He’s healthy now.
“We’ve got another junior, Tucker Bellamy. He’s got a lot of ability and he’s never played. This is the first year he’s played. But he’s got some ability. He just needs some playing time, too. He can shoot and stretch the floor,” said Poe.
“We’re kind of adjusting our style of play a little bit because we’ve got a little bit more skill, we’re a little more athletic. We’ll just try to let them get better. We’re going to get it up and down the floor, hopefully without turning it over. We’re going to be a lot of fun to watch play,” he said.
In the brief glimpse of the Falcons in their jamboree scrimmage against Happy Valley, they looked effective when they were pressing and trapping the Warriors.
The Falcons get to enjoy a unique experience prior to jumping into the regular season after Thanksgiving week.
“We’re going to play a couple of Hall of Fame games then take a trip to the Bahamas, which I think is going to be a great learning experience for our kids after what those people down there have been through,” Poe said.
Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1 and lingered over the islands the next two days, its reported 185-mph winds and storm surge causing an estimated 61 deaths and $7 billion in catastrophic damage.
“Hopefully, we can go down there and do a little community service and stuff like that and try and give something back so they can get a great learning experience out of it,” Poe said.
The Falcons will also face some stiff basketball competition on the court.
“They can play down there,” Poe said. “I’ve been down there before when I was at Science Hill. I know what we’re facing. But I’d like for it to be a learning thing this year, so when they get a little older and they go back in a couple years when they’re really ready to compete.
“It’s going to be wonderful. We’ll play four games in five days and it only counts as two on your schedule, so we get to play a lot of basketball while we’re down there. Plus, we’re staying on the beach and doing all that stuff and get away from the cold weather for a week. Our kids are looking forward to it. We’ve got a lot of parents going. It’s going to be a great trip,” Poe said.
Poe said his goals for this season are “to get the foundation laid. These guys are going to be pretty good. They’re still young, but they’re going to be really good someday. Whether or not they’ll be able to compete with Kingsport and Science Hill, who knows? But we’re going to have our time when we’ll be very competitive.”
Poe expects those two schools to be the teams to beat this season.
“It always is. When you’ve got 2,500 kids to choose from, there’s talent in numbers. But there’s going to come a point in time when we’re going to be very competitive,” Poe said.