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Justin PenleyCoach:  Mr. Justin Penley

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Press Article:  Time is now for University High basketball team
Basketball Press:  The following article was printed in the Johnson City Press:

Time is now for University High basketball team
Jeff Birchfield • Updated Oct 29, 2017 at 5:15 PM

It's no longer about potential for the University High basketball team.

Coach Justin Penley says it's time for production.

With the core of Joseph Harless, Charlie Vargo and Jake Hubbard returning with plenty of varsity experience, Penley expects the Bucs to show significant improvement over last season's 8-19 campaign.

"I feel like these guys have gained valuable minutes over the last couple of years." Penley said earlier this week at the team's media day. "We kept saying, 'We're young.' Well, we're not young anymore. These guys have grown up, in a lot of cases, trial-by-fire situations. At some point, it's not about potential, but about production."

Harless, a 6-foot-2 senior post, is the leading returning scorer with 14.9 points per game and a rebounder at 5.6 per game. Hubbard, a stout 6-foot-1 junior, adds muscle after scoring 10.2 points per game last season. Vargo, a 6-foot junior wing, averaged 10 points per game and came through with multiple big moments like sinking game-clinching free throws against Sullivan North.

The starting lineup for the moment also includes senior wing AJ Simerly, a transfer from Daniel Boone who is called an impact defensive player, and Marshall Fleenor, a sophomore point guard who Penley describes as fiery and passionate.

"I like the makeup of this team," Penley said. "You have a lot of the things you're looking for as a coach in terms of putting a competitive team on the floor night in and night out. It's not any secret that our conference is extremely competitive and you have to play at your best every night to give yourself a chance to win. We haven't shown the consistency over the course of preseason workouts. Hopefully, that's the next step in our maturation of a team, to go from occasionally putting it all together to more consistently putting it all together."

With their experience, the trio of Harless, Hubbard and Vargo know what is expected from Penley on game day and beyond. Their leadership is needed because the Bucs only have two seniors and four juniors, who include Colin Daniel and Tucker Clements.

"They've gotten better about holding each other accountable with their off-the-court work," Penley said. "I'm excited about what they bring to the table. I'm not ready to say we're going to win the conference yet, but I feel like most nights we can be competitive."

They will still have to rely heavily on younger talent with Zach Rice, Hayden Tolley and Mason Broome only sophomores. Penley is really excited about freshman Kaleb Meredith, a 6-foot wing who the coach believes can be a special player.

The Bucs' Watauga Valley Conference has a slightly different look this season with Sullivan North replacing South Greene. Still, the Bucs' coach believes a pair of familiar names have to be considered the favorites.

"That's not much of a change for us because we played Sullivan North every year," he said. "You know Hampton and Cloudland are going to be good every year. Unaka has some talent on their roster and they play extremely hard. North Greene has a lot of good pieces off a team which set a school record for wins. It's going to be a challenge for us."

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Home games are played at Brooks Hall/Gym on the ETSU main campus, listed as Building #9, Brooks Memorial Hall on the ETSU Main Campus Map.




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