Longhorns start on somewhat promising note

By Matt Hill
Star Staff

   MOUNTAIN CITY--After having its first four games against Class AAA opponents, the Johnson County boys basketball team's record being 2-2 might just be a good omen for the rest of the season.
   The Longhorns look like they've turned the corner in 2002-2003. Proof of that was Saturday in the second night of Roundball In the Hall (which was played at Science Hill High School.)
   After suffering a 48-point loss to Science Hill the night before, the Longhorns could have just not shown up the next night and felt sorry for themselves.
   But that didn't happen.
   The Longhorns rallied back to defeat Tennessee High 62-52, and nearly led the entire game.
   "After the embarrassment we took (Friday) night, we just had to be disciplined," Short said. "Last night we weren't very disciplined. We played their style of basketball. Tonight we played our style of basketball and executed our game plan."
   During last year's campaign that most of the players would tell you was disappointing, Johnson County might not have recovered from a loss like the one it took against Science Hill.
   But this experienced Longhorn team seems to have more confidence now.
   Many players have raised their level from last year, and the Longhorns are now beating teams they couldn't beat last season.
   "It's definitely a lot better than last year," Short said.
   Frank Icenhour wanted to move on from Friday night's rout. The loss seemed to really fire him and his team up to play the Vikings.
   "We just put that behind us," Icenhour said. "We came out today and just went through with our game plan, and did what we had to do."
   The Longhorns have struggled at times so far, and they've yet to put together a complete game. But still, the team has shown signs of being a major contender in the Watauga Conference.
   Johnson County's other loss came to Greeneville by a score of 64-62.
   If it hadn't been for poor free-throw shooting in that game, the Longhorns may have a 3-1 record going into their first conference contest with Sullivan Central on Tuesday night.
   Why the turnaround this year? Players have elevated their games.
   Tommy Short admitted last season was disappointing for him, but this year he is currently tied for the team lead in scoring at 14 points-per-game.
   Short has also contributed with quality defense, and by showing strong leadership capabilities on the court.
   Frank Icenhour had 14 against Tennessee High and hit the boards real hard. If Icenhour can match his performance against the Vikings every time out, look for the Longhorns to be in good shape.
   Everybody knows about Judd Shoun and what he brings to the table. He got my vote for the STAR's top underclassman last year as a sophomore point guard.
   This season though, Shoun seems to be wiser and more of a leader. Shoun is also showing more of a scorers mentality, as he poured in 19 against Greeneville and is currently averaging 11.5 points-per-game.
   Michael Lipford was pretty much a role player last season, but has come up big in 2002-2003. Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood recently called Lipford "the best defender in the Watauga Conference."
   Lipford has also stepped up his scoring in big games, as he scored in double figures against Greeneville and Science Hill.
   The Longhorns biggest game of the season so far will be Tuesday night against the Cougars. Johnson County seems to know what to expect.
   "They play just like Science Hill," Short said. "We can't play their style of basketball. We've got to slow the tempo of the game down and make them play us."
   Atwood thinks the Sullivan Central game is huge if the Longhorns are going to win the Watauga Conference this year. He also believes that game could make or break the trip to Steamboat Springs, Col. for the Steamboat Springs Shootout later in the week.
   "Our big game is Tuesday night," Atwood said. "It's crucial for our kids to be ready to play. The same night we go to Charlotte to get on a flight to Colorado. We're going to see what kind of kids we've got.
   "Central is the biggest game in the conference for us right now. We've got to be able to stay focused and take care of business on our home court before we go to Colorado, and hopefully have a little bit of fun. But it's not going to be any fun if we go into Central and let them control us and make us play that Science Hill style."
   Shoun believes this team will be ready to face the Cougars.
   "I think definitely we're ready for it," Shoun said. "We've been ready for a conference game ever since we've been practicing. I think right now this is where we want to be, 2-2. I think a lot of people overlook us, because we're not a big team. I think we'll come in and shock a lot of people Tuesday night."