published Monday, March 7th, 2011

Lookout Valley aiming for state

Class A boys’ sectionals

Friendship Christian at Arts & Sciences, 7

Lookout Valley at Clay County, 8

Class AA boys’ sectionals

Cannon County at Howard, 7

Tyner at Livingston Academy, 8

Class AAA boys’ sectionals

Lawrence County at McMinn County, 7

Cleveland at Siegel, 8

Mention his individual accomplishments and Stracey Bonner quickly sidesteps the praise to talk more about what Lookout Valley’s basketball team has accomplished together.

The lone senior on the roster and a four-year starter, Bonner is the only player in program history to have 1,000-plus points and rebounds in a career, but more important to him is the 180-degree turnaround by the Yellow Jackets. In Bonner’s freshman season, Lookout Valley won just one game. The following year the Jackets won seven, but now they are just one win from reaching the Class A state tournament when they travel to Clay County in a state sectional.

Five other area teams have the chance to qualify for their respective classification’s state tournament in tonight’s sectional round. Also in Class A, sixth-ranked Arts & Sciences hosts Friendship Christian, while in AA, Howard hosts Cannon County and Tyner travels to Livingston Academy and in AAA, McMinn County hosts Lawrence County and Cleveland is at fourth-ranked Murfreesboro Siegel.

Only the winners advance to the state tournament, which begins March 16 at Middle Tennessee State University.

“It was real frustrating my freshman year and my second year wasn’t a lot of fun either,” said Bonner, who has 1,347 points and 1,045 rebounds. “But I could see we were getting better and we were playing good teams close by my second year, so I knew we would be good eventually.

“We learned to work together and become more of a team last year. We won 8 of our last 10 to have a winning record and that confidence carried over to this year. Basically we just grew up.”

At 6-foot-3 Bonner is by far the tallest player for the Jackets but playing four guards also means they have more ball handlers, evidenced by the fact they average just 12 turnovers per game.

The Jackets also had to learn to win the close games since they average scoring just four more points than they allow. Bonner, along with junior guard Delaney Heathington and sophmore wing William Long all average between 12-13 points per game. Further proof of the Jackets’ offensive balance is the fact that those three are within five shot attempts of one another this season.

For the first time since 2002, Lookout Valley (21-11) won the District 6-A tournament championship and has 20-plus wins.

“If we can hang around until the fourth quarter we feel pretty good about our chances because we’re so used to playing in close games,” said veteran coach Joe Galloway, who returned to coach the boys two seasons ago. “I’m really happy for all the guys, but especially for Stracey to get to enjoy this kind of success his last year. Class A programs have years where numbers are a problem and you struggle for a little while. It’s just part of what happens at small schools. They just didn’t have any basketball experience so they took their lumps and now they’ve turned things back around for us.

“Stracey is very coachable and really set a great example for the younger kids to follow. They don’t worry about who gets the glory, they just want to win games.”

The TSSAA released the matchups for this week’s girls’ state tournament, with top-ranked McMinn Central (32-1) opening against 10th-ranked David Lipscomb (26-6) in the Class AA bracket Thursday at 11 a.m. (EST) at Middle Tennessee State University.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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