Wildcats prepare for first game of season on Thursday

Members of the 2021-22 Oak Ridge High School varsity basketball team.
Members of the 2021-22 Oak Ridge High School varsity basketball team.

Head Basketball Coach Aaron Green has won more games than any other basketball coach in Oak Ridge High School history, compiling an enviable 306-58 record during his 11 years at Oak Ridge. He put together a 28-6 season during the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic. Green’s Wildcats won the District title, were Region 2-AAA runners-up, Section one champions, and made the TSSAA Final Four for the fourth time in ORHS history before falling to Houston.

You might think that coming off such a successful campaign during a tough school year, Green would lower the intensity a little bit.

Not a chance.

The Sweetwater High and University of Tennessee product brings the intensity every night, not unlike current Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl, who coached at UT during Green’s Georgia years. He said, "Pearl taught him not only the “x’s and o’s at an elite level, but also lessons on how to work effectively with the different personalities that make up a basketball team."

In response to a question about his legendary sideline stomps, the passionate and demonstrative Green said, "He now wears soft-soled shoes that don’t make as much noise.”

He praised Pearl’s ability to motivate players.

Green said, “he had a magic feel for that.” Green also points out the work ethic that his parents instilled in him, particularly since he played for his father, the legendary Danny Green, who won the 1994 State Title, with his Tournament MVP son.

In the wake of that Final Four appearance, some changes are in store for the Wildcat program. Green loses assistant Tyler Cate, who recently accepted the head coaching position at Carter. He retains assistant Ronnie Scott, who also coaches the JV team, his freshman coach Ted Mitchell, and Danny Green.

Similarly, the Wildcats lose a lot of size and experience to graduation, including the 6- foot-7-inch Carnegie Mellon forward Jonathan Milloway, who led last year’s team in scoring, rebounds, and shooting percentage among other categories. The Wildcats also lose Jeremy Miller and Stafford Shanklin, who are continuing their hoops careers at Tusculum. Additionally, Johnathan Stewart is playing football at Missouri Southern.

With a focus on small ball and quickness, fall workouts emphasized being faster and stronger, accentuating their strengths. The sizable, deep rotation includes five solid perimeter shooters, so Green sees a fast-paced, fun, high-scoring style from his Wildcats. Kell Slater at 5 feet, 11 inches and 170 pounds, starts at point guard. The senior returns with solid a solid stat line, leading the team in assists last year with 3.9 per game and shooting 48.9% from the field and 33.3% from the three-point line. Sophomore Brennen Scott at 5 feet, 10 inches and 150 pounds, is the young shooting guard. Senior Jamison Uptgraft is 6 feet, 1 inches and 170 pounds and is a small forward, who played in 33 of the Wildcats’ 34 games last year and is a solid 45.2% shooter from the three point line. Slotting in at both the three and the four spots, Brandon Heyward at 6 feet, 165 pounds, will see significant playing time. Caden Uptgraft at 6 feet, 1 inches and 175 pounds, will start at power forward, and Lucas Searcy at 6 feet, 5 inches and 200 pounds, will start at center. The versatile Searcy brings strong rebounding skills, but also passing and outside shooting and will share time with senior Darren Osborne, 6 feet, 4 inches and 185 pounds.

Green also sees big minutes from sophomore Kaden Brightharp, 6 feet, 160 pounds, 6-0, junior Grayson Strader, 6 feet, 5 inches and 160 pounds, and junior Hayden Tarwater, 5 feet, 11 inches and 165 pounds. Osborne, Heyward, and Tarwater are both coming off the fall football season and require some recovery time before logging many minutes.

Green points to the Wildcats’ Final Four loss to nationally-ranked Houston last March as a foundation for the season.

"The experience of playing a tough schedule during the regular season prepares the team for the challenge of the spring tournament season," Green said.

That’s likely to continue this year, as the realigned District 3 looks challenging. While the District lost Clinton, Anderson County, and Halls, it picked up West, along with holdovers Campbell County, Karns, Central, and Powell. District 3 looks like a much tougher haul this year. He singled out West, with all of last year’s starters returning as a District favorite. In Region play, Green pointed to perennial favorites Maryville and Bearden, along with Farragut. The 'Cats will travel to the NXT Level Tournament at CPA in Nashville, one of the top high school basketball tournaments in the Southeastern United States.

The Wildcats open their season with McMinn County at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Wildcat Arena at ORHS.

This article originally appeared on Oakridger: Wildcats prepare for first game of season on Thursday