Looking at the top rivalries across West Tennessee, the Huntingdon – McKenzie rivalry has to be near the top of the list.
The two are always in the conversation when it comes to the District 13-A championship in multiple sports.
The Mustangs and Rebels play their first of two regular season meetings on Friday in McKenzie.
When McKenzie’s John Wilkins and Huntingdon’s Jonathan Kee were asked the key to winning this battle, both coaches keyed on two areas that will be important – rebounds and taking care of the basketball.
“McKenzie is well-coached, and I have a lot of respect for Coach Wilkins,” Kee said. “We have to control the glass by blocking out and getting second chances on the offensive end. We also have to limit turnovers. We have to get shots off.”
Wilkins answer was similar.
“We have got to take care of the basketball,” Wilkins said. “Against West Carroll, we had five turnovers. In the games before that, we had 21 turnovers in each. We have been stressing taking care of the basketball and not playing in hurry mode.
“We have to control the boards. The guys are starting to buy into these things. There is just a learning curve for us.”
Both teams have been working to get the football players into basketball shape, and that is nearing completion.
Dylan Johnson, a three-year starter, is back on the floor for Huntingdon, and this will be his third game back after being injured during basketball.
The Mustangs started the season 0-3 before beating Bruceton on Tuesday.
“Playing Jackson Christian and Camden, we found that we were not good defensively,” Kee said. “We are not good at stopping direct drives to the basket, and not good on the glass.
“We were also playing as individuals. We have been working on that, and that is not going to be fixed overnight. We will be working on that in the coming months.”
But this group of Mustangs were the same ones that reached the District 13-A championship last year like Macon Bullock and Johnson, so they know what it takes to be good.
“We have been teaching and encouraging them to focus on the process, not over the outcome,” Kee said. “We can play well and win or we can play well and lose. The key for us is to continue to get better, because we might win and play lousy. We have to get better every practice and keep giving a good effort on the court.”
McKenzie is a younger group after graduating a large portion of last year’s team, so playing this one at home will be good for the youth.
“We expect to draw a good crowd,” Wilkins said. “The students have been excited, and with this game on a Friday, we will draw the community. We have guys playing for the first time in this rivalry matchup. A majority of them have not played in an atmosphere like we will have Friday night.”
The Rebels will look to the veterans like Jack Surber, Chase Kelley and Brandon Baucum to be the leaders.
“We are learning every time we are on the floor,” Wilkins said. “A big part of what we will do is the rate at which we progress this season.
“They were the preseason No. 1 team for good reason. They have two strong post players and three or four guards that can get to the rim and put pressure on us.”
A win on Friday will give either team a 2-0 start in district play with two more district games remaining before the Christmas break.
Michael Odom, 425-9754