Rangers stay in routine en route to title

By Tim Chambers
STAR Staff
tchambers@starhq.com

   MURFREESBORO -- Thirteen basketball players, one team manager, four coaches and, of course, the all-important navigator, "Big" John Taylor, got to know the town of Murfreesboro quite well this week.
   Yes, the excitement for the Unaka Ranger basketball team is running at an all-time high, but for these 19 individuals, it was doing what they do best that kept the players as cool as cucumbers.
   The daily menu was pretty much the same -- a good breakfast at Shoney's, followed by some relaxation back in the room. Game-day preparation and walk-throughs are routine.
   Thursday featured a practice at a local sports complex, but the only thing missing was a basketball. A trip to the local Wal-Mart would take of that problem. In every room, you would find a PlayStation with some competitive games going on.
   Cody Collins, Rusty Chambers and Tyler McCann roomed together all week. To most they are known as "The Three Stooges," but PlayStation seems to keep their minds off other distractions.
   "We couldn't sleep the night before the Temple game," stated McCann. "So Rusty, Cody and I just played our video game late into the night."
   Said Rusty Holtsclaw: "Tyler and Rusty can't hang with me. I am the king of basketball, but not wrestling."
   The entire team disagrees with Holtsclaw, otherwise known as "Delbert," "Big Nasty" and "Precious," but he takes it all in stride.
   Definitely, Rusty and Tyler echo the entire team. They are the masters at PlayStation.
   "Rusty can't handle me," said McCann. "He has no heart when it comes to NBA Live."
   Adam Buckles said: "It will be a long time before I could eat another meal at McDonald's. We've wore it and Wendy's out this week."
   And team manager Alex Daniels had the same sentiments for Shoney's.
   "I don't know if I can handle another breakfast bar until next basketball season," he said.
   Josh Jones just smiled and said: "I want to enjoy this as long as I can."
   Mike Walsh, who became a varsity member in January, feels like Unaka has a good shot at going back next season.
   "If we can find someone to step in for Rusty and Cody, we could be very good next year," Walsh said.
   Josh Lowe and Tee Blevins, both sophomores, were enjoying the ride. They remember Chambers, Collins and Jones playing against Ezell-Harding at sophomores, and now here they were in the championship game.
   Maybe, just maybe, with a lot of hard work, they can return to the Big Dance, but the ride ended on Saturday for the senior players, yet the road has been paved for many years to come.
   Chambers, Collins and Jones, the three seniors, have laid a foundation that will never be forgotten. They will long be remembered as the first senior class ever to win a state championship at Unaka High School.
   The celebration on the floor was one that will never be forgotten, but for the fans in stands, the party was just beginning.
   No one will ever forget the year 2004 and the road to the state championship for the Unaka coaches, players and fans. It's a ride that will never be forgotten.
   For "Big" John Taylor, whom every player loves and respects, what a joy, you deserved it.
   To first-year assistant Larry Bowling, a job well done.
   Chambers summed it up best when I mentioned coach Richard Thomas along with coaches Donald and Johnny Ensor: "I love each coach with all my heart. When you spend four years with someone, they become like family. My high school coaches, along with my elementary coach, Kenneth Chambers, will always be family."
   To celebrate the state championship, each player was treated to a free buzz-cut that left each head as smooth and shiny as the gold ball which they had won.
   Nineteen individuals who have become as close as brothers, a state championship and memories for a lifetime -- it's just another routine day for the Unaka boys basketball team in the town of Murfreesboro.
   Note: A reception and celebration is planned for the team at the Elizabethton Ingles today at 5 p.m.