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Blue Devils win league opener

By Trey Williams

Unicoi County senior wing Robbie O’Dell is helping smooth the Blue Devils’ adjustment to life without Brock Thompson, who chose not to play this season after leading the team in scoring in 2019-20.

After making 14 treys while helping Unicoi County win two of three Hardee’s Classic games, O’Dell scored 14 points when the Devils opened Three Rivers Conference play with a 59-49 home win against Happy Valley on Friday, Dec. 4.

O’Dell, who is averaging 14.7 points for the Blue Devils (5-3), also scored 16 points in a home loss to Cloudland on Dec. 1.

“Honestly, taking on the challenge of the loss of Brock and what he provided for us on both ends of the ball has been different than past years,” O’Dell said, “but I like the challenge of having to step up and be more of a leader to those young guys with less experience at the varsity level. I felt like I had a pretty good couple of games during the Hardee’s. It was a tough loss to South Greene though. Turnovers and missed free throws killed us down the stretch.

“If we learn to slow down and take care of the ball, I feel like we could be a really good team. Coach (John) Good and the rest of the coaches want nothing but for us to succeed so I know they will have us prepared and with a game plan every night we step on the court, we just have to execute.”

O’Dell is shooting above 40 percent from deep through eight games, showing no rust from a late start due to football. He shot 2-3 nights a week during football season.

“I knew it was coming quick so I needed to be prepared for my senior year,” O’Dell said. “I did have a fast start to the season, but that’s all credit to my teammates for finding me when I’m open to knock down the shot. Coach Good is always on me about shooting the ball, so I worked over the summer and through football season to get more confident and comfortable with shooting the ball and being a leader for those guys.”

Another football player, sophomore post Lucas Slagle, scored 12 points against the Warriors and is averaging double figures in rebounding after averaging a double-double as a freshman.

“That kid is a sophomore and he’s 6-foot-5,” O’Dell said. “It’s unbelievable what he did last year for us and what he’s doing this year. The best thing about it is he only has room to grow as a player these next two years. He is a force in the paint, whether it’s scoring the ball or getting rebounds. He’s a talented kid in all three sports (including football and baseball) as well. Bright future for the kid, for sure.”

Bryson Peterson and Eli Johnson each scored nine points against Happy Valley.

“It was a very good team win versus Happy Valley,” Coach Good said. “Bryson Peterson really attacked the rim and we made a conscious effort to get the ball inside. Eli Johnson hit a big-time ‘three’ when Happy Valley had cut the lead to one.”

Peterson and Ty Johnson are handling the lead guard responsibilities.

“Bryson and Ty have the toughest job on the team, in my opinion,” O’Dell said. “They have to make the right decisions and get everyone else on the same page. They have been very aggressive this year and got themselves to the free throw line a lot. But we have to be better as a team of getting to the line and making our free throws.

“Eli has been a very good addition to our team. I love the way the kid plays his heart out every night. He’s a winner, that’s for sure.”

Grant Hensley scored 19 points in the loss to Cloudland. He made 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“I expected Grant to come out this year and have a promising start,” O’Dell said. “His brother, Trevor Hensley, is UCHS’s all-time leading scorer. So Grant definitely has it in his blood to be one heck of a ballplayer.

“Eli and Grant are young, too. They will grow as players as they get older and get more work in. I’m excited for their future as a Blue Devil.”

Cloudland won at Unicoi County for the first time since 2006. The Blue Devils went ahead 58-51 on a Tyler Clouse trey, but the Highlanders answered with a 12-0 run and held on for the 66-63 victory to get coach Tyler Chambers his first victory.

“We simply just turned the ball over too much,” Good said, “and missed too many free throws.”

Unicoi was scheduled to play at David Crockett on Monday, Dec. 7, and at Sullivan South on Friday, Dec. 11.