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Coach: Mr. Justin Penley
Assistant Coach: Mr. Brody Hazelwood
High school basketball
Sullivan North turns tables on Cloudland
Gene Renfro • Updated Feb 16, 2018 at 11:29 PM
University High 75, Unaka 59 (Boys)
Unaka kept University High within reach, but the Junior Bucs blew the game open after halftime.
The Junior Bucs led 30-23 at halftime before A.J. Simerly and Caleb Meredith each scored seven points in the third quarter to help build a 52-35 UH advantage with eight minutes left. Both Simerly and Meredith knocked down a trio of 3-pointers.
Meredith led the team in scoring with 18 points followed by Simerly and Joseph Harless with 17 apiece. Charlie Vargo totaled nine rebounds, Simerly eight and Harless seven.
University High has a 17-11 mark with at least three more games to play.
Isaac Hill did his part for Unaka. He led the Rangers with eight first-half points and added six more in the third quarter.
In the final quarter, though, Hill did all he could. His 15 fourth-period points gave him a game-best 29 points — the most of any player on the opening day.
Blake King gave the Rangers another 13 points.
Unaka's season closed at 2-24 after it played the Junior Bucs tighter than in the regular season — when both games were decided by at least 28 points.
High school basketball
University High sweeps Tri-Cities on senior night
Gene Renfro/Sports Correspondent • Updated Feb 12, 2018 at 9:36 PM
Senior night festivities inside Brooks Gym Monday night saw the Junior Bucs and Junior Lady Bucs sweep Tri-Cities Christian.
University High took the boys' game 72-55 after the girls' game was a 52-15 rout.
HARLESS SHINES ON SENIOR NIGHT
Senior Joseph Harless picked the second quarter for his outburst. The 1,000-point career scorer added 14 points in the second quarter. That output helped the Junior Bucs to a 39-31 lead at the break. Harless finished with 20 points.
FIRST QUARTER GOES TO JUNIOR BUCS
University High had a battle for the first portion of the contest. Charlie Vargo knocked down a 3-pointer five minutes into the game for the 14-11 lead. That advantage would remain for the Junior Bucs the rest of the night. Kaleb Meredith got eight of his game-best 22 points in the opening quarter.
STRONG SECOND HALF SPURS JUNIOR BUCS
University High scored the first nine points in a two-minute span to seize control. Senior A.J. Simerly had four of his seven points in that stretch. Eventually the Junior Bucs led 55-33 at one point in the third. Marshall Fleenor helped the home side with half of his 10 points for the game in the stretch to make the game a 22-point margin.
TCCS DOES NOT GO QUIETLY
Isaac Hatfield did his part to bring the Eagles back. He got nine of his team-high 17 points in the final quarter. Near the middle of the fourth the rally had TCCS within nine, at 57-48. University High pushed the margin back out to 16 with two minutes left thanks to four points from Meredith in a stretch.
University High 52, Tri-Cities Christian 15
University High proved to be too much from the start in the opening game. The Junior Lady Bucs led 15-3 after a quarter and 34-6 at halftime. Gracie Crabtree scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half. Sarah Fisher also had a 12-point game for the winning side. Senior Abby Benton poured in nine points while fellow senior Ashley Daniel had two points.
It was the second time this season that University High reached 50 points. The other was in a 65-20 win over Tri-Cities Christian last month.
Both squads from University High will play Unaka in Friday's opening round of the District 1-A Tournament to be played at Daniel Boone. The girls' contest will be at 7 p.m. followed by the boys' game. Friday's winners move into Saturday's semifinals and earn a spot in the Region 1-A Tournament as well.
High school basketball
UH boys pull away from Cloudland
Matt Laws • Updated Feb 6, 2018 at 9:34 PM
In Brooks Gym on Tuesday night, a run proved to be all the difference.
University High pulled away in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter and then held on for a 58-42 win over Cloudland in Watauga Valley Conference basketball action.
In the girls' game, a strong defensive effort powered the Lady Highlanders to a 52-18 victory inside Brooks Gym.
With the win, UH improves to 5-4 in district play and 14-10 overall, while Cloudland drops to 5-4 in WVC play and 14-10 overall.On the girls' side, Cloudland improved to 5-4 in District 1-A play and 19-8 overall, while the Lady Bucs fell to 0-9 in district play and 2-17 overall.
The Bucs and 'Landers saw neither team able to pull away over the first half as UH held a 12-11 lead after a quarter of play. After the Bucs got a nine-point advantage, Josh Blair hit a pair of big shots to help Cloudland close within two at the half.
FOURTH-QUARTER UH RUN
The Bucs' Marshall Fleenor hit a 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to give UH a 44-39 advantage and the momentum going to the final stanza. Over the first four minutes of the final quarter, AJ Simerly and Kaleb Meredith knocked down shots to help power the Bucs to an 11-point lead. The 'Landers were unable to recover.
UH TRIO REACHES DOUBLE DIGITS
Harness had 19 points, including eight points in the second quarter, to power the Bucs. Meredith amassed 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals while Fleenor scored 12.
Leeper had 13 points and six rebounds to lead Cloudland. Blair accounted for 11 points and nine boards.
UH Boys Basketball Wins Over Providence! The following article was printed in the
Johnson City Press:
High school basketball
Johnson County girls top HV in overtime
Johnson City Press • Updated Feb 1, 2018 at 10:49 PM
University High 78
Providence Academy 33
Kaleb Meredith, Joseph Harless and Marshall Fleenor combined for 64 points in the Jr. Bucs' one-sided victory.
Meredith showed the way with 25 points, going 11 of 14 from the floor. He also had five steals and five rebounds.
Harless (10-16 FG) accumulated 21 points, five boards and four thefts while Fleenor (8-12 FG) amassed 18 points and three assists.
The Knights' Chris Miller tossed in 10 points.
UH boys, Unaka girls pick up victories
Gene Renfro • Updated 01/30/2018 at 9:47 PM
How sweep it is! The University High boys' and Unaka girls' basketball teams completed season sweeps over their counterparts Tuesday inside Brooks Gym.
The University High boys were an 81-37 winner over Unaka while the Lady Rangers beat the Lady Bucs 51-19.
The Junior Bucs ran their record to 12-9 overall with a 4-3 Watauga Valley mark. University High moved into a tie for third. Unaka has a 2-20 record and 0-7 tally in the conference.
UH SAILS AWAY
Unaka owned a 24-23 lead after Will Sexton hit a three pointer with 5:09 on the second quarter clock. Sexton would lead the Rangers with nine points. University High answered and closed the first half on a 16-3 run with Joseph Harless scoring 12 of his game-best 21 points in the stretch. Harless was a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range.
University High outscored the Rangers 22-5 in the third to secure control. A.J. Simerly scored half of his 14 points in the third quarter as the Junior Bucs ran away thanks to quality shooting. Overall University High was 30 for 47 from the floor and 9 for 14 from behind the arc. Marshall Fleenor chipped in 15 more points with a dozen from Kaleb Meredith in the game.
University High basketball
University High shakes off Sullivan North
Gene Renfro • Jan 19, 2018 at 10:59 PM
It was a bounce-back performance by University High.
On Friday night, the Jr. Bucs captured a 56-45 Watauga Valley Conference win over Sullivan North at Brooks Gym to keep pace in a log-jammed league race.
A night earlier, UH lost in double overtime to Happy Valley. Against the Golden Raiders, the Jr. Bucs posted a strong second half to emerge with the win.
"It's so competitive that every conference night is a grind," UH head coach Justin Penley said. "Every win is big. It feels good to get that win tonight."
Trio paces UH
The Jr. Bucs were led by Joseph Harless with 17 points. Charlie Vargo and Kaleb Meredith added 15 and 14 points, respectively.
The trio accounted for 82 percent of the scoring in the win and also helped at the free throw line — especially late. They combined to go a near-perfect 14 for 15 at the line and went 8 of 8 in the final six minutes.
Sullivan North battles
By the close of the third quarter the lead had changed hands 10 times as the Raiders went toe to toe with the home team.
Sullivan North saw Matt Burk pour in seven of his team-high 16 points in the third to help keep the game close.
It was University High's Kaleb Meredith who put the home side up for good with his free throw at the 2:09 mark of the third period. The score was 28-27 at that point, and UH was up 36-30 heading to the fourth.
Injury hampers Jr. Bucs
An injury to Jake Hubbard in the first quarter took away a major weapon for UH. He entered the game with a scoring average of 11.6 and a team-high rebounding clip of 6.0. According to Penley after the game, Hubbard was at the hospital having the injury examined.
"Losing Jake tonight could be hard for us to overcome," Penley said. "We may have to circle the wagons a little bit and scramble around to see if we can pick up that slack. He helps us as one of our best interior rebounders."
The Jr. Bucs boosted their record to 10-7 overall and 3-2 in the Watauga Valley. UH moved into a three-way tie for second place with North Greene and Cloudland. Sullivan North went to 8-11 with a 2-3 league mark.
Happy Valley rallies to best UH in two overtimes
Tanner Cook • Updated 01-18-2018 at 9:37 PM
Down by double digits in the second half, Happy Valley showed no interest in pressing the panic button.
And by the end of Thursday night's double-overtime thriller at Brooks Gym, the Warriors had captured a 76-71 non-conference triumph over University High.
This marks the second consecutive home game the Jr. Bucs have blown a double-digit lead in the second half.
"I thought we made some great adjustments at halftime," Happy Valley head coach Chuck Babb said. "We had 13 or 14 turnovers in the first half and then we didn't have more than five in the second half. I thought Bryce Carter really stepped up for us in the second overtime and got some key offensive rebounds off of missed free throws. We just kept working down low and it paid off."
The game was tight in the early stages, with the teams playing to a 14-14 tie through one quarter of play.
The Jr. Bucs (9-7) slowly built a nine-point advantage by halftime thanks to outstanding work by Joseph Harless, who had 14 points at the break.
The Warriors (5-13) crept back into the game near the end of the third quarter, cutting the once 11-point UH lead to four.
When the 2:45 mark of the fourth quarter rolled around, Happy Valley had nabbed a one-point edge (54-53).
University High's Marshall Fleenor made two clutch free throws with 34.2 seconds left to knot things up at 57.
Bryce Carter missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer for Happy Valley as time expired and the contest was headed to overtime.
Both defenses stepped up in the first overtime period. After Fleenor missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Warriors and Jr. Bucs braced for a second OT.
A Carter double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds) spearheaded the Warrior attack while Brayden Sams scored 20 points — with 14 coming after halftime.
HV got 14 points from Jake Surcey while Dakota Cochran amassed 11 points and eight boards.
Harless posted a game-high 28 points in the loss while teammate Kaleb Meredith totaled 15. Jake Hubbard grabbed nine rebounds.
University High nabs key win over Cloudland
Johnson City Press • Updated Jan 13, 2018 at 12:08 AM
ROAN MOUNTAIN — With Charlie Vargo pouring in 15 points and Joseph Harless collecting 14, University High defeated Cloudland 67-56 in a key Watauga Valley Conference contest Friday night at Sonny Smith Gym.
Marshall Fleenor had 10 points while Kaleb Meredith followed with nine for the Jr. Bucs, who managed to gain some breathing room after leading 32-29 at halftime.
University High's Jake Hubbard pulled down 11 rebounds while Vargo amassed eight.
Robert Leeper's 17 point, 17-rebound double-double topped the Highlanders. Conner Birchfield followed with 11 points.
Hampton takes road sweep of University High
Tanner Cook • Updated Jan 9, 2018 at 11:04 PM
There was some controversy at the end of regulation and overtime in the University High-Hampton basketball game Tuesday night at Brooks Gym.
But the Bulldogs were able to overcome a 15-point deficit with six minutes left in the fourth to come back and win in overtime, 73-67.
"Our kids just kept fighting and were able to pull off a big win on the road," Hampton head coach Ned Smith said. "It's huge to win in our conference on the road. We dropped one at home, so this will build some confidence for us."
The recently hot-shooting Jr. Bucs (1-2, 8-6) got off to a much slower start than they were used to against the Bulldogs (2-1, 8-7) in a key Watagua Valley Conference matchup, as they managed only nine points in the opening quarter.
Both teams began to pile up the fouls midway through the second quarter as University was already in the double bonus and Hampton was one foul away from being the same.
An 11-point Hampton lead disappeared and University High seized their first lead of the game at 31-29 after Collin Daniel hit his third consecutive 3-pointer.
The Bucs finally caught fire in the second quarter after a 26-point outburst and led by six at the break.
In the blink of an eye, the Bucs lead had grown to 15 points and the Bulldogs had few signs of life as the fouls started to amount for key players. The UH shooters started to heat up in the middle of the second quarter and were carrying the momentum into the second half.
Hampton began to mount a rally with 5:11 when the lead was cut to eight points. UH had suddenly had three straight empty possessions and the turnovers were the culprit.
The Bulldogs pulled to within two points with 44.8 seconds to go and needed to play solid defense. Three players had already fouled out for Hampton and every player on the floor for the 'Dogs had at least three fouls.
The Bulldogs tied the game with 2.6 seconds left, but could not pull it out in regulation as Dru Owens missed a game-winning shot as time expired.
Nine players total fouled out for both teams and University High played the last minute and change with four and then three players due to being out of legal substitutions. There were 55 personal fouls called in regulation and overtime.
Gavin Hardin had 26 points to lead Hampton while Owens had 21.
Marshall Fleenor and Daniel each had 11 points for UH.
Stepping Up: Hubbard's big night highlights University High's early success
Jeff Birchfield • Jan 8, 2018 at 4:13 PM
There's the perfect game in baseball, rolling a perfect 300 in bowling and the perfect run in bracket drag racing.
Jake Hubbard had his perfect basketball game, going 12 for 12 from the field last Friday night, to lead University High to a 95-68 win over arch-rival Unaka at Snavely Gymnasium.
All 12 shots came in the paint, although not all were layups. One of Hubbard's makes was a 15-foot jump at the corner of the free-throw line. He also hit 8 of 11 free throws that night and ended with a career-high 32 points. After the coaches double-checked game film, his final numbers were readjusted to 11 rebounds and five assists.
Still, the 6-foot-1 junior post remains humble about his performance, which included 14 second-chance points.
"I have been very blessed with amazing coaches, teammates and family who have supported me," said Hubbard, whose previous high was 31 points against Providence Academy last season. "I couldn't have done it without my teammates putting me in positions to score."
All of this came in the unfriendly confines of Snavely Gym against a team considered the Jr. Bucs' biggest rival.
"You look what he did in a conference game on the road in a hostile environment," University High coach Justin Penley said. "Frankly, it was situation where we needed somebody to lift us up and he just controlled the paint and controlled the game. He stepped up in a big way."
Hubbard's night was special alright, but it's also shaping up to be quite the season for University High.
The Bucs (8-5) are just one game away from matching last season's win total and it includes a win over Hampton during a December tournament at Virginia High. University High and Hampton will meet again Tuesday night in a league game, and the Bucs face Cloudland in another key contest on Friday.
They are playing with confidence, especially freshman Kaleb Meredith, who is the team's leading scorer. He was 8 of 11 for 21 points in the win over Unaka.
"I remember before the season at our media day saying he was a kid you better keep an eye on. He can play," Penley said about Meredith. "From a coaching standpoint and as a fan, watching him play is fun. He's an excellent ballhandler who can finish with either hand. He's a good shooter and percentage-wise he's a good 3-point shooter, but he's also more than capable of driving the ball in the paint and stopping for a pull-up jumper. He's also a great passer and a great defender."
Penley also praised the leadership of senior guard Joseph Harless, who is right behind Meredith in scoring. With 31 points, Harless was the star of the Bucs' 96-89 double-overtime win over Hampton on Dec. 16.
Going into the season, most UH fans knew the talent which the Bucs returned with the trio of Hubbard, Harless and Charlie Vargo. They also had an inkling of the potential of Meredith, who played in a few games as an eighth-grader a year ago.
But, the real surprise has been the play of others — including sophomore point guard Marshall Fleenor, who had 13 points in the Unaka win, and junior Colin Daniels, who hit three shots behind the arc.
Penley has been particularly surprised by the play of A.J. Simerly, whom he had counted on as a defensive specialist.
"A.J. has been better than I expected," Penley said. "I knew he could do some things to help us defensively where he's long and athletic. But, he's been a pleasant surprise on offense. He can score and shoot the ball. He's another kid who has been coachable and bought into his role."
The final score might lead one to believe otherwise, but University High had a fight on its hands early against Unaka. The Bucs led by just five points at the half, and it wasn't until Matt Carter hit a big 3-pointer that they got on a roll.
Once they did, Hubbard and the rest of the team proved to be nearly impossible to stop.
"We really came together as a team and battled through adversity to pick up the big win," Hubbard said. "Going into that (Unaka) game, we had success over the last four games. We hope to keep it rolling as we have a big week with two conference games."
As for Penley, he's hoping that Hubbard continues to flourish. He said there's no doubt he is one of the hardest working players he's ever coached.
"He works so hard for it. That's not just coach-speak. In his case, it's really true," Penley said. "His character as a young person is impeccable and his work ethic is something you hold up as an example to others. He's the kind of kid you root for and you're happy to see him have that kind of success."
High school basketball
Jr. Bucs win double-OT game with Bulldogs
Johnson City Press • Updated Dec 16, 2017 at 10:49 PM
BRISTOL, Va. — Two overtimes were required to settle the issue in Virginia High's Bearcat Invitational.
The issue ended in University High's favor as the Jr. Bucs outlasted Hampton for a 96-89 basketball victory on Saturday.
The contest featured a pair of high-scoring individual performances, with Joseph Harless putting up 31 UH points and Hampton's Dru Owens netting 30. The two players also grabbed six rebounds apiece.
Jake Hubbard and Kaleb Meredith both pumped in 18 points for the Jr. Bucs, who got 16 (three 3-pointers) from Marshall Fleenor.
The Bulldogs' Jordan Bentley (7 rebounds) and Jaydon Livingston (6) each tallied 17 points while Gavin Hardin constructed a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. Livingston went 5 of 7 from 3-point territory, where Owens converted four of his 10 field goals.
The two teams combined for 20 three-pointers (Hampton 11, UH 9). They played to a 74-74 tie in regulation, then it was 83-all at the close of the first OT.
High school basketball
Hilltoppers defeated by Oak Ridge, 61-55
Johnson City Press • Updated Dec 15, 2017 at 11:22 PM
University High 80
Patrick Henry, Va. 52
BRISTOL, Va. — The competitive phase of this Bearcat Invitational contest ended rather quickly as the Jr. Bucs outscored Patrick Henry 32-1 in the opening quarter.
Shooting 9 of 12 from the field, University High's Joseph Harless filled the nets for a game-high 20 points. Kaleb Meredith hit 9 of 14 attempts before fouling out with 19 points.
Also for UH, which converted 50 percent (35-70) of its shots, Jake Hubbard (6-10 FG) packaged 15 points with eight rebounds and five steals. Marshall Fleenor chipped in 10 points and three assists.
Sam Fullen fashioned an 18-point, 7-rebound performance for the Rebels. Josh Presley knocked down three 3-pointers in a 17-point outing.
Jr. Bucs flatten Twin Springs
From Staff Reports • Updated Dec 5, 2017 at 10:24 PM
TWIN SPRINGS, Va. — Behind 28 points, nine rebounds and three steals from Kaleb Meredith, University High overwhelmed Twin Springs (Va.) 80-40 in high school basketball action Tuesday night.
Meredith went 11 of 17 from the field, draining four of his seven 3-point attempts.
Charlie Vargo tossed in 13 points for the Jr. Bucs, who led this game 48-14 at halftime. Joseph Harless had 11 points, A.J. Simerly tallied nine and both players harvested seven boards.
Meredith, Jr. Bucs win big at Providence
Johnson City Press • Updated Dec 1, 2017 at 11:32 PM
Sparked by Kaleb Meredith with 25 points, University High upended Providence Academy 83-35 Friday night in a non-conference basketball game on the Knights' floor.
The Jr. Bucs knocked down 11 3-pointers, getting four each from Meredith and Colin Daniels.
Daniels finished with 12 points while Charlie Vargo and Jake Hubbard tossed in 10 apiece. A.J. Simerly contributed nine points, as did Marshall Fleenor for UH, which outscored the Knights 26-4 in the opening quarter and never looked back.
Zach Rice harvested nine rebounds and Vargo seven while Fleenor garnished his scoring total with six boards and four steals.
Providence Academy's Hunter Reid scored 14, Cameron Patterson dropped in 11 and both players sank three 3-pointers.
University High boys and girls basketball preview
By NN Assistant on November 29, 2017 Featured, Local Sports
Photo by Dave Ongie
Bucs hope to turn potential into production
By Dave Ongie
University High coach Justin Penley spent the last two seasons reminding everyone how young his team was.
When he looked around the gym on media day prior to this season, however, he saw a group of players that is coming of age.
"I feel like a lot of these guys have gained valuable minutes over the last couple seasons," Penley said. "We kept saying, 'we're young, we're young' but now we're not that young anymore. These guys have grown up a lot, and in a lot of cases, in a trial-by-fire situation. So at some point, it needs to stop being about potential and it's got to be about production. Hopefully that's the next step for us."
Charlie Vargo, Joseph Harless and Jake Hubbard make up the nucleus of the team. Vargo, a 6-foot junior wing, saw a lot of playing time as an underclassman. The same goes for Hubbard, a 6-1 junior post, and Harless, a 6-2 senior post. A.J. Simerly, a 5-11 senior guard, will be expected to make a huge contribution, as will 5-8 sophomore point guard Marshall Fleenor and 6-0 sophomore swingman Mason Broome.
While Penley stopped short of saying the Bucs are ready to contend for a conference title, he certainly expects his team to compete on a consistent basis this season.
"I like this team," Penley said. "I like the makeup of it. I think we have a lot of the parts you're looking for as a coach in terms of putting a competitive team on the floor night in and night out."
Sams, Stevens lead Warriors over Bucs
Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 27, 2017 at 11:34 PM
ELIZABETHTON — Brayden Sams put Happy Valley in position to win and Noah Stevens finished it off on Monday night at Bayless Gym.
Sams scored Happy Valley's first 11 points of the final period and Stevens scored the last 11 to lead the Warriors to a 74-65 boys' basketball win over University High at Bayless Gym.
Happy Valley won 58-20 in an earlier girls' contest.
Sams and Stevens each ended with 22 points overall as the Warriors rallied from a 15-point, first-half deficit for the victory.
"The first half, we were both cold," Sams said. "The second half, we started hitting our layups and then we moved to the outside shots. We both had the 22 at the end of the night, but it was a good team effort. Luke Roberts came off the bench and gave us some good minutes. Bryce (Carter) played good defense with his hands straight up and not fouling. It was just a good team win."
Joseph Harless scored a game-high 23 points and Marshall Fleenor added 15 for the Bucs, who also saw Caleb Meredith hit double figures with a dozen points.
"I thought our effort was outstanding and our kids played exceptionally hard," University High coach Justin Penley said. "Some nights the ball just doesn't go in the bucket. That's what happened to us late. We had some good looks at it, but give Happy Valley a lot of credit. They made a lot of big shots every time we made a run at them. But if we play like that night in and night out, we will win some games."
Happy Valley coach Chuck Babb was glad how his team had a balanced effort of 10 points by Jake Surcey, nine from Carter and eight from Kevin Whitaker. He especially liked the efforts of Sams and Stevens in the deciding moments.
"Noah got upset early in the game and went in a shell a little bit," Babb said. "I had to get on him and tell him to get tough. And he did. He played outstanding on defense with seven steals, and he and Brayden made some big shots down the stretch. Our shot selection wasn't what we needed in the first half and we got in a big hole. But, we made some adjustments at halftime, and our kids didn't quit when we got down. That's a credit to them, how they kept battling."
Happy Valley 58, University High 20
The Lady Warriors led just 12-10 at the end of one quarter, but outscored the Lady Bucs 40-6 over the next two quarters to romp to the big win.
"We missed a lot of easy shots in the first quarter, but then we got rolling," Happy Valley coach Larry Abel Jr. said. "This team, our offense comes from our defense, and it did again tonight."
Adrienne Henegar led the way with 15 points, followed by Kate Roberts with 10 points. Tiana Long added seven, including a go-ahead basket at the buzzer at the end of the first quarter.
Sarah Fisher had 12 points, nine of them coming behind the 3-point line to lead University High.
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."
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.