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Last season’s Owen boys varsity basketball team struggled to win games in spite of a roster loaded with senior talent. This year the Warhorses will rely on skilled young players to help them win.

A renewed sense of teamwork has Owen optimistic about its chances in the Western Highlands Conference.

The JV team last year had lots of success, leading to a winning record in conference and nonconference play. And with stars of that team such as Kobe Bartlett and Matthew Brown ready to step up to the varsity level, there’s plenty to be excited about.

Senior leader Brady Parker, who started in many games last year and also served as a sixth man, had plenty to say about the upcoming talent.

“We’ve got some juniors that have played on varsity,” he said. “We’ve also got some young talented players. Our senior leadership will help (complement) the young talent.”

With only three returning seniors, the Warhorses will have to rely on their young players for success. One of them is sophomore point guard Ben Craig, who started last year as a freshman before Owen’s football players returned to the team from their state playoff run.

“I feel a little pressure, (but) I had experience last year on varsity as a freshman, so that helps,” Craig said “When you get in games and start talking, you forget about the pressure.”

Craig looks to lead the team to better success than it has had in years past. “I plan on strengthening our team chemistry and getting everyone involved,” he said.

Last year’s squad found it hard to win games without a strong framework. In a sport where team chemistry is a huge factor in a team’s success, the Warhorses have worked to make their unity as strong as possible.

Returning senior Austin Metcalf, who has been a four-year player for the Warhorses, is pleased with improvements to some of the flaws last year’s team encountered.

“We all seem to mesh and connect better than last year’s team on and off the court. We’re all friends off the court, so play on the court seems to flow smoothly,” he said.

Despite the youth, this year’s group has spent plenty of time together as a team. Head coach Chuck Robinson is fully aware of the amount of time each player has committed toward the team to achieve success.

“We’re young, but this team has come a long way. They’ve busted their tails over the summer and fall,” Robinson said. “There’s still work to do, but they’ve accomplished a lot.”

During the off-season, the Warhorses practiced with Warren Wilson College Owls basketball team, work that improved the team.

“Our chemistry is amazing,” Robinson said. “We’ve participated in lots of team bonding and camps over the summer and fall. I’m so excited about this team’s future.”

The Owls’ staff is headed by Anthony Barringer, in his first season as the head coach there. Barringer is a high-intensity coach who started at point guard for the Owls during their 2013 national championship run. He and his players have guided and practiced with the Warhorses throughout the off-season, improving on hustle, pace and communication, among other key skills.

The work the players have put in and the help they have received from Barringer and company have boosted the Warhorses’ expectations and improved their focus.

“We want to make the playoffs and win a conference championship,” returning senior Brady Parker said emphatically.

Coach Robinson has high hopes for the Warhorses as well.

“We're young, but we will surprise a lot of teams this year,” he said. “This group will create lots of fast breaks. They run the court well, and we are constantly working to improve our defensive skills.”

Owen looks to use its team chemistry and pool of young talent to help it win this season. As the team sets out to fulfill goals of winning the Western Highlands Conference and making a run in the state playoffs, the work put in by players and staff could make for some great basketball.

Harrison Vess wrote this article for his senior project at Owen High.

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