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Smith, five seniors return to lead varsity squad

A familiar face is now at the helm of the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball program.
The Blue Devils are gearing up for the 2015-2016 season under the direction of head coach Michael Smith, who assumed the role of the sideline general following John English’s resignation. English resigned after becoming the county’s director of schools.
The head coaching position is familiar territory for Smith – a longtime Blue Devil coach and former player. Smith led the program as the interim head coach during the 2013-2014 season.
During a recent interview with The Erwin Record, Smith said he expects the Blue Devils to have success during the upcoming season.
“We have five seniors this season,” Smith said, “but we expect everyone to step up into a leadership role. It doesn’t have to be leading vocally, but leading by the way they play and the way they practice.
“I’m expecting good things this year. The guys respect each other and have accepted the roles they’ve been given,” he continued. “They have worked hard during the summer, during conditioning this fall and at practice … Right now, we have nine to 10 players that we put on the court and we feel like we have a good rotation in place.”
The Blue Devils posted a 14-20 record last season. The season ended with a loss to Greeneville in the quarterfinals of the Region 1-AA tournament.
Smith said the Blue Devils will play an up tempo style and could use up to 12 players in the rotation as the season progresses. Three spots on the varsity rotation are still up for grabs.
Two key offensive threats – sophomore Trevor Hensley and junior Dylan Putman – return for the Blue Devils. Senior Dalton Spears returns with his steady play at the point guard spot.
“Last year, Trevor Hensley had a good year as a freshman,” Smith said. “So did (Dylan) Putman. They both averaged around nine points each. … Dalton Spears has done a great job running the point.”
Junior Jacob Smith and Sophomore Clay Simpson return in the paint and will be assets on the defensive end for UCHS.
“They both have been solid players for us,” Smith added.
Also returning to the court this season are seniors Hunter Hensley, Ethan Godsey, Brandon Caldwell and Eli Gillis.
“We have a great group of seniors,” Smith said.
Juniors Chase McNabb and Michael Howell and freshman Brett Strother will also play important roles for the Blue Devils, Smith said. Strother missed the summer activities with the team due to illness; however, he is expected to make a strong return to the court.
The Blue Devils’ depth is expected to help them compete in what is anticipated to be another deep Three Rivers Conference.
“It will be another tough league this year,” Smith said.
In addition to Smith, the Blue Devils’ coaching staff consists of Ben Evely, who will coach the junior varsity team, and Drew Rice, who will coach the freshman team.
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The Blue Devils open the regular season on Friday, Nov. 20, with an in-school Hall of Champions (HOC) game at Volunteer High School set for 1 p.m.
The HOC stretch continues with a trip to Mountain City on Saturday, Nov. 21, to face Mitchell County at 6:30 p.m.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to play their home opener on Tuesday, Dec. 1, against Science Hill in non-conference play. The junior varsity begins at 5 p.m. with varsity to follow at 8 p.m.
The Blue Devils open conference action on Friday, Dec. 4, at home against Sullivan South.