Upperman Basketball Focused On Improving While Outside Expectations Soar

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The Upperman Bees’ basketball team has unfinished business in the 2020-2021 season.

COVID-19 ended the Bees’ 2019-2020 season before they could compete in the state tournament. Now, outside expectations are higher than ever for the Bees. Despite those outside expectations, UHS head coach Bobby McWilliams and his team are only focused on improving every day.

“We just take one game at a time,” said McWilliams. “We appreciate people’s respect as far as our team and our program’s concerned. These guys have proven over the course of the last three years they’ve been here that they can compete at a high level. The expectations are naturally going to be there for them.”

“We take one game at a time, try to get better every day and our practices show that.”

The Bees return a core of starters from the 2019-2020 squad that was instrumental for an Upperman team that won 30 games and went undefeated in District 8/AA play: Collin Gore, Isaiah Allen, Jace McWilliams and Alex Rush.

“I like where we are at,” said coach McWilliams. “We’ve got four starters returning. With so much uncertainty, you just don’t know until you get out there. Right now, in practice we’re trying to tidy some things up. I think we’ll progress as the season moves along, just based on some changes in personnel. The kids worked hard in the offseason.”

Rush emerged as a star last season. The Freed-Hardeman University commit has improved in the offseason, according to McWilliams.

“He’s just gotten better at every facet of his game,” said McWilliams. “His perimeter skills are definitely a lot better. He shoots the ball better. His passing is much better. Overall, his maturity on the floor is a lot more noticeable right now. He’s taken his game to another level.”

The team lost Filip Babic, Donoven McCallister and Andre Bell. McWilliams said they will now be counting on Jaxon Fox in the starting lineup, and Kason Grissom and A.J. Nash off the bench to step into the void.

The UHS backcourt contains two returning starters who handle the ball in Allen and Gore, along with McWilliams and new-starter Fox.

“With (Allen, Gore, and McWilliams) on the floor, you expect to be in every game,” said coach McWilliams. “They’re smart players. They’re very skilled. They’re really tough competitors. We expect those guys to set the tone for us each and every night.”

At this point, McWilliams said his team is working on getting better defensively.

“I think we’ve got to do a better job of guarding people and rebounding the ball,” said McWilliams. “Those are two areas we are focusing on. We lost Donoven and Filip, and both of those guys were really good rebounders and defenders. That’s an area we are probably going to have to clean up a lot for us to be able to make a deep run in the playoffs.”

Bell provided a spark off the bench for Upperman last season. McWilliams said A.J. Nash has emerged as the player who may provide that spark for the Bees this season.

“We love where A.J. Nash is right now,” said McWilliams. “A.J. played a lot of AAU this summer. He’s going to be a big help to us.”

The Bees will face a difficult non-district schedule featuring AAA squads Riverdale and Clarksville Northeast to open the season. McWilliams said his team embraced the difficult schedule as a way to prepare them for the season and postseason.

“Whatever deficiencies and weaknesses we have, those are going to be exploited,” said McWilliams. “There’s too much size, too much speed and too much athleticism coming out of those teams that we will play. For us, that’s going to get us ready to go into our district play.”

The Bees will open the season Thursday in Murfreesboro against Riverdale. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.