Unaka seniors synonymous with success

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   If the careers of the five Unaka boys basketball seniors were hotels, they would be Embassy Suites.
   They were first class.
   Aaron Dugger, Ben Cole, Dustin Collins, Josh Blevins and Kevin Estep saw their careers come to an end Wednesday with Unaka's 54-42 loss to Ezell-Harding in the TSSAA Class A State Tournament, but that is definitely nothing to be ashamed of.
   When it's all said and done, these seniors and the rest of the Unaka team can say it did something that hasn't been accomplished in 14 years.
   The Rangers made it to the state tournament, and these five seniors set a good example with hard work and determination.
   Some played more than others, but Unaka head coach Donald Ensor is still pleased with home the seniors led the way to Murfreesboro.
   "Those five seniors, I couldn't ask for anything more," Ensor said. "They've done everything I've asked them to do from the time they came in as freshmen. We got beat in the state tournament, but at the same time they were rewarded with a trip down here."
   The Rangers have been led the past two seasons by Dugger. Over that time span, he has put together some basketball that has truly been remarkable.
   Over the last two years, Dugger has dazzled fans with 30 and 40-point efforts. When he's making his shots, Dugger is one of the most exciting players you would ever want to watch.
   Last season, I said Dugger was the best player nobody's ever heard of. But now, the whole Northeast Tennessee area seems to know who Aaron Dugger is.
   A local publication recently rewarded Dugger as Upper East Tennessee's Player-of-the-Year. He earned those honors by averaging a 27 points-per-game.
   Dugger showed the area just what kind of talent exists at the Class A level, and I'm sure we've got four more years to see his outstanding talent.
   Cole also came to Unaka as highly-touted talent, and he lived up to his billing.
   Cole was also capable of big scoring nights, but what he will be remembered for mostly is how he made life miserable for players in the post.
   Cole was an excellent rebounder and defender, but the best thing about him was how hard he played. Cole left it out on the floor every time he stepped on the court.
   Same thing can be said about Collins. He struggled in the state tournament, but still had a great career.
   Collins was capable of hitting a big bucket at anytime. Case in point was during this year's District 1-A Tournament when he five threes against University High.
   Collins was rewarded with the Most Valuable Player award in the tournament, and I felt like he was very deserving of it. He was definitely a valuable member of the Ranger squad.
   Blevins didn't put up big numbers, but he still earned a starting spot on this Unaka team. Blevins' play improved as this season went on, but his brightest spot came in the sub-state against Sunbright.
   Blevins scored eight points, and provided a spark that the Rangers needed to get them to Murfreesboro.
   Estep rounds out this incredible group. He didn't see much action, but played very hard when he did play. He had just as much respect from his teammates as anybody.
   These players were also gracious in interviews, and never downed another team. They have definitely set an example for the younger guys to follow.
   Both on and off the court.