Sitting in his office next to the boys basketball locker room, Owen head coach Chuck Robinson has a lot to smile about.
There is junior guard Brian Bartlett’s scoring - he appears able to get a shot off from anywhere on the floor. Then there is Mathew Brown’s continued emergence - he was one blocked shot away from a triple-double against Madison High School a few weeks ago.
Then there is sophomore Ben Craig. He’s been a stabilizing force for the Warhorses at the point guard position, averaging nearly 14 points per game and more than five assists per game. Add in senior guard Johani Franks’ double-digit scoring and average, and coach Robinson believes Owen is a legitimate contender in the Western Highlands Conference this season.
“The boys are playing as a team,” he said last week heading into the Warhorses’ game against Mountain Heritage. “This late in the season is usually when guys are just starting to come together as a team, but we’ve been playing that way all year. And it shows.”
On the heels of a tournament in Cherokee, the Warhorses entered the second half of the season with an 8-7 overall record. Given the rare opportunity at a tournament in Cherokee to play a conference foe in a nonconference game, Owen routed Polk 78-48.
“The tournament was a good experience for the boys,” Robinson said. “We played well, and the boys played with a lot of heart and hustle. That’s exactly what I like to see out of them.”
In early January, Owen jumped back into its conference schedule with back-to-back road victories over Madison and Hendersonville.
“I was proud of our guys against Hendersonville,” Robinson said. “We played them man-to-man and pressed them the entire game. That’s one of the things that has worked well for us this year and helped us play fast-paced basketball. The boys played amazing.”
That style of play has the Warhorses in the mix near the top of the highly-competitive Western Highlands Conference this season. Even if the schedule has been less than kind.
“We play five straight on the road coming out of the break,” Robinson said. “One of the reasons the schedule is like that is because of exams, but it’s still tough to play five games straight on the road for anybody.”
Robinson is optimistic that Owen will finish the season with enough conference victories to host an opening round game in mid-February.
“The way that our conference tournament is now, the first round is at the higher seed’s home gym,” he said. “We could have a tournament game right here and that would be on Feb. 16.”
And while a home game in the conference tournament would be nice, it is still short of what the Warhorses initially set out to do.
“One of our goals at the beginning of the season was not only to be contenders in the conference but to make the playoffs as well,” Robinson said. “And if we keep playing together we can make that happen.”