It has not taken long for new Alcoa boys basketball coach Ryan Collins to realize there will not be much leeway given by the community in his first season.
Eight Alcoa teams have qualified for state tournaments in the last two seasons, including the team Collins inherits. The Tornadoes went 17-15 last season but two years ago they were competing with the top Class AA teams in Tennessee.
The way Collins talks about the team during his precious little time with the team during the summer suggests Alcoa could be in position to challenge for another berth in the state tournament as soon as next season.
“The thing about the Alcoa community is the expectations are very high,” Collins said. “It’s a program with a lot of tradition. In the first team meeting we talked about what we would try to build. The culture, to me, is everything. It all boils down to culture and character.
“For us what that looks like is bringing out the best in each other, facet No. 1, and No. 2 is being part of something bigger than ourselves. No. 3 is competing at a very high level. We want those things to translate into everything we do whether it’s on the practice floor, in a camp game or in the regular season.”
Collins has coached his group through 13 games in the last two weeks. The Tornadoes hosted two days of scrimmages, and they played three-straight days at the Maryville College team camp. Today and Tuesday they’ll play six more games in Knoxville.
He said he has been pleased with what he has seen in the early going. The players have been coachable, and they’re adjusting to the fast pace of play. The Tornadoes will be aggressive on both sides of the ball and hope to use their athleticism to create turnovers and then run the floor for easy buckets.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the first few months of Collins’ tenure is that several players who had stopped playing basketball have rejoined the team. That group includes Ronald Jackson, Ahmaudd Sankey, Caden Tollett and Taharin Sudderth.
“I think it was something new, something fresh,” Collins said. “We didn’t beg anyone to come out. It was their desire. We want build something that everybody wants to be a part of — something that is enjoyable. I’m really pleased they’re out.”
Cam Burden, a transfer from Sevier County, should contribute to the team, too, following his likely big performances on the football field.
All of those players will pick up with the basketball team after football season, and until then Nick Roberts and Nate Marsh will set the pace.
It’s a long time before Collins coaches his first game, however, so there are plenty of opportunities for Collins to get things on a high enough level for the Alcoa fan base.
“There is a lot we need to improve on,” he said. “That’s part of the camp season is figuring out what’s going well, what’s our strengths and what’s our weaknesses. The whole thing for me is figuring out what is going to be the identity of this basketball team. That’s where we are.”