|Legendary junior college basketball coach Verties Sails speaks during the first annual District 16 AAA basketball media day at Whitehaven High School on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.|
John Anderson Jr. is right at home on the basketball court. But the Central High junior also looked pretty comfortable in the media spotlight.
Anderson was one of several local standouts who took part in the first District 16-AAA Media Day event Wednesday at Whitehaven. And if speaking to reporters was something unfamiliar to him, it didn't show.
"I feel equally comfortable doing both," he said. "On the court, we're always going 100 miles an hour, ... but this is a great experience. It will help us be able to tweak the small things and see where we can get better."
The event was the brainchild of Whitehaven coach Faragi Phillips who described it as a way to help players get prepared for the media demands they'll face in college.
"I was talking with some of my players and found that sometimes it's difficult for them even to make eye contact," he said. "It just comes with experience; the more you do something the better you will become. I think this is a good motivator for them."
As with any media day, there was lots of prognosticating going on.
Defending state champion East — which was voted No. 3 nationally in the CBS/MaxPreps preseason top 25 earlier in the day — is the favorite to take the boys championship, followed by White Station, Central, Whitehaven, Hamilton, Melrose and Overton. A revamped White Station team got the nod as the preseason girls' favorite ahead of state semifinalist Central, Whitehaven, Hamilton, Melrose, Overton and East.
"It's a big honor, but the games haven't been played yet," said Spartans coach Tommy Warren, whose strong class of returnees will be bolstered by the addition of transfers Teal Battle and Zaire Hicks.
"Teal and Zaire ... it's like they've been here all along. I'm just the conductor, trying to make sure we play some beautiful music."
East's Alex Lomax — the reigning Mr. Basketball — was named preseason player of the year. Whitehaven's Jasmine Carson — who has transferred from Central — and Tesia Thompson of Hamilton are the girls' player of the year choices.
But regardless of where they were predicted to finish, the players seemed to relish the opportunity to talk about the upcoming season, which begins Monday with Hall of Champions games around the city.
"Our school is legendary," said White Station's Allen Hatchett. "We've had some off (seasons), ... but that hardship has brought us closer together."
Another program that has slipped a bit in recent years is Hamilton, but Kevon McMahon said it would be a mistake to discount the Wildcats.
"Since we were ninth-graders on the state championship team (in 2015), we know what it takes to compete," he said. "Being picked fifth just motivates us to go out and prove the doubters wrong. The outcome is the outcome; we're just ready to go out and play."