By Ken Lay
The Pilot Rocky Top Basketball League unofficially kicked off its eighth season Wednesday night with its annual player draft at Doc’s All-American Grille. Now Knoxville Area fans can turn their attention to Opening Night.
The season tips off today (June 15) at Catholic High School. Action begins at 6 p.m. with Knoxville News-Sentinel taking on DeRoyal Industries. At 7:30, defending champion Game Time Lights playing Rice Buick GMC. Opening night concludes with H3 Sports tangling with Tillman Companies at 9 p.m.
The draft got underway with Knoxville News-Sentinel selecting former University of Tennessee star Bobby Maze with the first pick. Other first-round selections included Tennessee players Robert Hubbs (Tillman); Armani Moore (Game Time Lights); Detrick Mostella (Rice Buick GMC) and Kevin Punter (H3 Sports). DeRoyal chose former Tennessee standout Wayne Chism.
Other former local standouts included Central High School coach Jon Higgins, who played for the Volunteers; former Bearden player Michael Blue, Lincoln Memorial University’s Jalen Steels (a transfer from Mississippi State, who starred at Fulton) and Minnesota’s Dre Mathieu (who once starred at Central).
Tonight, the league begins its second summer at Catholic. In 2013, Christian Academy of Knoxville hosted games after Bearden was the venue for the first five seasons.
“Catholic is the best venue that we’ve ever had,” said league commissioner Andre Whitehead. “It’s air conditioned and the people at Catholic have been great.”
The league underwent a change this summer. No junior college or high school players are participating and that will allow college coaches to attend the games according to Whitehead.
“In the past, we’ve had Juco and high school players,” Whitehead said. “Those were all considered [potential recruits] by the NCAA so the coaches couldn’t attend.”
In addition, Tennessee had a coaching change when Rick Barnes was named the team’s third coach in three years and Whitehead did a bit of a selling job. Barnes was hired to replace Donnie Tyndall, who was fired after just one season due to NCAA violations at Southern Miss.
“I knew coach Tyndall and I knew coach [Cuonzo] Martin really well,” Whitehead said. “I didn’t know coach Barnes because he never recruited in Tennessee.
“[At Texas], he recruited talented [in-state] players and had a pipeline in Canada, I reached out to people who knew him and he came aboard.”
The coaches are now excited to get the season underway.
“This is a good time to get together with old friends,” said H3 Sports coach Scott Barron. “Catholic is a great facility. Now, it’s time to coach and find out what kind of talent you have.”
Game Time Lights coach Brent Watts returns for his eighth season in the league and he’s looking forward to defending his title.
“”I love the fact that I got Armani Moore,” Watts said. “This is an exciting time of year for me and I am the defending champion.”