Unaka to debut in Arby's Classic

   BRISTOL-- Unaka's debut in the Arby's Classic this season can be compared to eating a Big Montana sandwich. The Rangers will get filled up on quality basketball competition.
   The Rangers will face Urspring, Germany in a play-in game on December 26 at 2:30 p.m.
   Elizabethton also drew an international squad, as they will face Tabernacle Baptist Academy out of the Bahamas on December 27 at 7:00 p.m.
   All games will be played at Viking Hall.
   Unaka may be the most intriguing story of this year's Arby's Classic. The Class A school has become one of the top programs in Northeast Tennessee at any level, which has helped to earn the Rangers a spot in one of the nation's top tournaments.
   "We're excited," Unaka assistant coach Jon Ensor said. "Our kids now, and the kids before this group have helped put our school on the map that we can get invited to something like this. That was one of the goals of our senior class. They wanted to work hard enough, win some big games throughout the season so they could get the notoriety that we could get invited to something like this."
   The Unaka coaching staff has turned the program into one that can be respected. Ensor believes this invite falls primarily back on the kids, but recognizes the job his brother, Donald Ensor, has done in finally making this day happen.
   "It's a tribute to the way our players have worked and developed their skills as individuals and as a team," Ensor said. "We're only as good as the players that go on the floor.
   "But Donald has had a lot to do with that, too. He's tried to get kids to go to camp, and gets them to spend a lot of time individually working on their own games and things like that. Donald's really pushed us in that direction."
   As far as Unaka's opponent, Urspring Academy has eight players who are 6'4" or taller. Upspring won the national championship last season, so the Rangers will have their hands full.
   One Ranger player shouldn't have too much trouble adjusting to facing international players. Aaron Dugger played on a team this past spring in Italy against foreign players.
   Ensor hopes he can give the Rangers a scouting report on how the international players play, but realizes the team will be a virtual unknown to them.
   "We're hoping he can give us a little bit of insight on the style of ball they play," Ensor said. "But we're pretty much going to go play our style. It will probably be sort of a fill out for the first quarter, quarter and a half, and then you try to develop a moving game plan. But as far as scouting, we're not going to have any idea about them and I'd say they won't about us."
   Ensor believes the Rangers are up to the challenge of facing a strong international team like Urspring.
   "We're looking forward to it," Ensor said. "We feel like that's a good draw for us. We want that kind of experience of playing somebody that doesn't know who we are either."
   Ensor thinks the community will really get behind the Rangers during this week.
   "This is really going to excite our kids, our fans and our whole community. Everybody on Stoney Creek really supports us well, and I think this is going to be an opportunity not just for basketball players, but for our community. "I think everybody's really excited about it."
   Elizabethton is no stranger to drawing international teams. Last year, the Cyclones lost to a team from Lithuania.
   "When I left the house today, T.J. (Hardin's son) said whoever is the best foreign team, that's who we'll play." commented Hardin. "It's just always happened that way. It doesn't really matter in the Arby's because you're going to draw somebody that can play. This is a great tournament, and we're tickled to be a part of it."
   Even though the Bahamas team is very talented, the Cyclones caught a break this year. After several years of playing in the play-in game, Hardin's squad now only needs four victories to take the championship.
   "I think that attests to the fact we've had some years where we've been pretty good in it, and we've got a chance to be reasonably good this year," Hardin said. "But it's nice to be right in the gut of the thing."
   Hardin is using this tournament as a springboard into the Watauga Conference wars that the Cyclones will be battling in this season.
   "We're just hoping to play to get better until January. Every game is an experience. We feel like we're going to be good before the year's out, we're just not sure when. We'll come and play hard, and hopefully learn a lot."