BOYS' TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Boyd-Buchanan: The Buccaneers return their entire starting lineup from a Class A sectional squad.
2. Brainerd: The Panthers have to replace a point guard but return swingman Marques Tipton and post Orlando Moore.
3. Calhoun: The addition of Gordon Central transfer Chandler Curtis to a solid front line should make the Yellow Jackets competitive in Georgia's Class AA.
4. Hamilton Heights: The Hawks will be the area's best team, with point guard and Tennessee Tech signee Aleksa Jugovic and an impressive core of underclassmen Division I prospects.
5. Tyner: The Rams added Ooltewah transfer Daaron Maston to an already solid core of players.
GIRLS' TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Baylor: The Lady Red Raiders were extremely young last season, with a core of rising sophomores and juniors led by point guard Kaleigh Clemons.
2. Bradley Central: The Bearettes were a Class AAA quarterfinalist last season and will be led by Division I signees Brooke Copeland (Florida) and Rebecca Reuter (MTSU).
3. Gordon Lee: The Lady Trojans lost Samford signee Kassidy Blevins from a Class A public-school state champion but return recent Grand Canyon University signee Katelyn Lee at post.
4. McMinn Central: The Chargerettes lost two-time Class AA Miss Basketball Elizabeth Masengil to UT-Martin, but the returns of Kelsey Young, who missed the entire 2012-13 season, and post Elizabeth Trentham will make the team solid agaub.
5. Sonoraville: The Lady Phoenix finished 27-2 last season and lost in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
BOYS' PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Kenny Bunton, East Hamilton: The 6-foot-5 sophomore swingman already is receiving NCAA Division I interest after averaging 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds as a freshman.
2. Chase Janow, Sale Creek: Janow is a do-everything player for the Panthers, who advanced to the Region 3-A quarterfinals.
3. Preston Pickett, Marion County: The 6-2 guard averaged more than 21 points per game last season for the Warriors, helping them to the District 6-A championship and Region 3-A quarterfinals.
4. Sadik Spence, Tyner: The 5-11 point guard led the Rams in scoring, steals and assists a season ago.
5. Cudjoe Young, Howard: After missing the first semester, Young returned to aid the Hustlin' Tigers to the Class AA state semifinals with his supreme athletic and playmaking ability.
GIRLS' PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Carrie Cheeks, Sonoraville: Cheeks averaged 16 points, 9.3 rebounds and three blocks a game for the Lady Phoenix, earning all-state honors.
2. Kaleigh Clemons, Baylor: The strong sophomore point guard will be the sparkplug of the Lady Red Raiders attack with her playmaking ability.
3. Brooke Copeland, Bradley: The 6-2 forward and Florida signee averaged 19.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocks for the Bearettes, earning all-state honors and the dual distinctions of Times Free Press player of the year and overall female athlete of the year.
4. Akia Harris, GPS: The lanky sophomore point guard led the Bruisers in scoring last season.
5. Katelyn Lee, Gordon Lee: The 6-4 Grand Canyon University signee helped the Lady Trojans to the Class A public-school championship.
On paper, it was the worst loss of Tyner basketball coach Gerald Harris's six-year coaching career. In the moments after that game, he said his team simply was outplayed, but his Rams knew exactly what happened, and heading into this season they feel they know what it's going to take to ensure that won't happen again.
Both Alex "Tree" Watkins and Dequan Hardwick said a lack of leadership played a role in the Rams' 82-49 loss to McMinn Central in a Region 3-AA quarterfinal on Feb. 23. The Chargers dominated every facet of the game, spreading the ball around to 3-point shooters and getting baskets on penetration when Tyner overcommitted. For a team that had allowed 70 points on only two other occasions all season, the 82 points were a season high.
"I can't even explain it. It hurt," senior center Watkins said. "We didn't listen to our coach. It was the worst loss I've been a part of."
Harris called the loss "disappointing" this past week, citing a lot of individualism as a cause of the 33-point beatdown.
"It was disheartening because it wasn't what we were about," Harris said. "We were talented enough to win games and go deeper than we did. From a team standpoint we weren't where we needed to be, and when that happens, individual play comes out. We preach leadership all the time, and that comes in a lot of ways on and off the court.
"We don't go back and harp on bad things; they understand that the last game wasn't who we were."
This season's Tyner team feels good about its leadership. And it certainly has a collection of players that can improve on last year's 18-9 record.
Watkins will provide an interior presence. Hardwick adds athletic ability. Once they get settled in from football season, point guard Sadik Spence and Rodney Watson will definitely be impactful. One opposing coach calls Spence "the key to that team."
"Every time he steps on the court, they'll have a chance to win," the coach said.
Also, lanky junior guard/forward Daaron Maston transferred from Ooltewah and is eligible to play immediately. Maston was a key part of the Owls team that advanced to a Class AAA sectional. In addition, the Rams picked up a couple of key freshmen who will be expected to contribute immediately.
"We've got more guards this year," Hardwick said. "We have some guys that will make us stronger, faster and better on defense. If those guys put in the hard work in practice, they'll help us push each other and they'll help us be a better basketball team."
As always, though, the Rams will have to fight in a tough District 6-AA that includes an above-average Brainerd team, an up-and-coming Central team and as always, Howard, which despite losing a couple of key players from a state-semifinal team will be competitive and well-coached.
"Our last week of practice has been fun. The attitude is there -- the guys have been picking each other up," Harris said. "The excitement is there and it's going to be interesting because we have a special group of seniors that have been in the program for a long time.
"It's a thing where we can't look backward. We have to look forward and see where it goes from there."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.