“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Ooltewah’s junior varsity basketball team never wanted to settle for anything less than perfection this season.
The Owls, coached by Andre Montgomery, a former scoring wizard at Notre Dame High School, capped a 14-0 record this past Friday with a 52-43 win over Bradley Central. That was one of just two games – both nine-point decisions – the Owls won by less than double-digit scores.
Along the way, Ooltewah posted lopsided victories by astonishing point spreads on a regular basis – 63 over Rhea County, 50 against Hardin Valley, 44 and 40 over McMinn County, 37 over Soddy-Daisy.
“Montgomery’s Marauders” were, quite simply, the best JV squad in District 5-AAA.
While the Owls were pouring in buckets, the team’s defense was smothering opponents at every turn.
In 63- and 37-point wins, Ooltewah held Rhea and Soddy-Daisy each to 26 points.
“Defensively, we were great,” said Montgomery, who played at Chattanooga State, Kennesaw State (Ga.) University and Tennessee Wesleyan following his high-scoring career with the Fighting Irish. “We put a lot of pressure on the ball, scored a lot of easy baskets off defensive pressure. Once our guys bought into it defensively, everything else clicked.”
Montgomery, who as a senior at Notre Dame in 1994, averaged 29 points while backcourt mate Tommy Fox put up 34 per game as part of one of the state’s highest scoring tandems, used a pressure man-to-man defense a majority of the season.
Of late, the varsity and JV Owls tinkered with some zone schemes, but never strayed far from their man-to-man roots.
“Man defense is really got us to where we wanted to be,” Montgomery said. “Those guys wanted to play hard and used a lot of energy when it came to playing defense. It paid off for them.”
“There are really only two plays: Romeo and Juliet, and put the darn ball in the basket.” – Abe Lemons
On most occasions, the Owls lit up the scoreboard.
Ooltewah’s average margin of victory was 28.3 points. The Owls averaged 70 points and allowed 42. The team’s season-high was 92 points against McMinn County. The Owls reached the 80s twice and in their first three games set a tempo for the season by scoring 81, 92 and 89 points.
Their low offensive output was 47 points in a 15-point win over Tyner.
Every time on the court the Owls displayed a stop-us-if-you-can mentality and seldom did opponents have the ingredients to even slow them down.
Four players averaged double-figure scoring, led by sophomore Daaron Maston’s 13.1-point average. C.J. Fritz averaged 10.4 points, Jamycal Johnson 20.2 and Ron King 10. Anthony Turner (8.2), Jarek Boyd (7.2), Jamichael Wooden (6.7) and Edward Montgomery (6.5) rounded out the top-eight scorers.
Montgomery’s normal starting lineup consisted of the 5-foot-9-inch Fritz, 6-3 Wooden, 6-2 Maston, 6-0 Boyd and 5-11 Johnson.
“We had probably eight guys we could start,” said Montgomery, in his fourth season as an assistant on coach Jesse Nayadley’s staff. “We could interchange those guys at any time. And we played just about everybody because we were winning so big.”
The varsity Owls just wrapped up the district’s regular-season title and No. 1 seed for the tournament that starts Wednesday at Cleveland High School. In 2011-12, the Owls captured the Region 3-AAA championship, beating Bradley Central, 60-58, at Cumberland High in Crossville. They later advanced to the state tournament where they lost to Memphis Central, 67-54, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
It was Ooltewah’s first state tournament appearance in 32 years.
“They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.” – Wilt Chamberlain
Last year’s Owls finished 27-5 and Nayadley’s current squad enters district play with a 16-8 overall mark. Ooltewah went 10-2 in district regular-season play.
So, the Owls’ program is rolling. The current varsity seniors went 16-2 as freshmen in Montgomery’s first year on Nayadley’s staff.
Like most varsity and JV programs, no matter the sport, the Owls’ programs are closely coordinated with the philosophy of the head coach and what he does.
“It’s the same,” Montgomery said. “We go ninth grade to varsity in trying to run our system here. That way, we can move kids in and out on varsity in case of injuries like we had earlier this year with Ben Snider (fractured hand). We moved Maston into the starting lineup and Anthony Turner went up to the varsity and they knew exactly what was going on up there.
“You never know what might happen and we also like to use it – the promotion – as a reward for guys who are playing hard, playing well.”
“If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball.” – Phil Jackson
Montgomery, who is employed by the Tennessee Children’s Services Department and lives in Athens, Tenn., with his wife, Bonita, a quality engineer at Denso Manufacturing, said this year’s JV has a nice blend of inside-outside players. Fritz, Johnson and King are guard types while Wooden, Maston and 6-4 Miles Cothran provide size down low.
Fritz and Maston are the offensive triggers. Wooden is the team’s top rebounder. Johnson is a defensively gifted player.
Outside play is hollow without inside presence. The Owls have an enviable mix.
Maston, who was on the same Ooltewah Middle School team as Wooden and Boyd, said the Owls never got overconfident in any game this season, despite the sometimes outlandish scores they ran up.
“We were always focused,” he said. “We knew we had to play hard in every game not matter who we were playing or the situation.”
And, he said, Montgomery had a lot to do with that.
“He’s a real fiery guy,” said Maston, who played guard and power forward. “He gets us going. If we’re down, he’ll talk to us and get us pumped, emotional and we got out there with more energy.”
As for the undefeated season, Maston said it’s a satisfying goal the team achieved.
“I don’t know if any of us had ever been on an unbeaten team before,” he said. “We practiced hard, got accustomed to each other and blended into a really good team.”
“If you’re going to take it to the bank, then you better cash it in.” – Shannon Fish
It has been an enjoyable JV season. With two juniors and the remaining players being sophomores on the JV roster, the Owls’ varsity program seems to be right on track for continued success.
“We were skilled offensively this year,” Montgomery said. “We had guys that shoot it pretty well. We translated a lot of points off our pressure defense. Just like my first team that had Antonio Jackson, Ty Presley, Andrew Ware and those guys, this group shows a lot of promise.”
That’s music to Nayadley’s ears.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)