PREP NOTEBOOK: For Jonathan Knox, basketball has been ‘a pressure release’


Jonathan Knox, a winner in the Bryant-Jordan Foundation’s scholarship program, said being on the Hale County High School basketball team gave him a sense of belonging. (Photo by Erin Nelson)


Jonathan Knox wasn’t a highly recruited basketball player, but he already has a scholarship in hand to further his education. And even if he never plays organized basketball again, he still has a sense of purpose for his life.

Knox, a senior at Hale County High School, recently received $2,500 as a winner in the Bryant-Jordan Foundation’s Scholarship program.

The 5-foot-10 Knox, who was a guard and forward, won the Student Achievement Award for Class 2A, Region 4.

"I was ecstatic and grateful for the reward of the scholarship," Knox said. "It will probably go to tuition and/or books and anywhere it’s needed."

Knox, who is waiting to see if other scholarship opportunities come through, said he hopes to attend the University of West Alabama in Livingston or Alabama-Birmingham. He wants to major in biology and possibly go on to medical school.

Knox, who has a 3.5 grade-point average, serves as the Hale County student government president and is the vice president for the school chapter of the National Honor Society.

"I’ve had a pretty blessed life with good parents," Knox said. "As far overcoming, the only thing difficult is coming from a small community. As far as school-wise or academic-wise, you don’t get that many opportunities that the other bigger schools have, such as (Advanced Placement) courses or (International Baccalaureate) courses, but I’ve had a pretty blessed life.

"My parents have always pushed me to do my best in academics. It was God, family, school and then basketball. Since basketball season is over with, it’s God, family and school, so I plan on trying to be successful as I can be in academics.

"Basketball was excellent. It was sort of a pressure release. Whenever I was upset or mad about anything, I’d just go play basketball. We had a pretty good team, a nice coach (Antwan Butler). It was fun. I loved it."

Knox said being on the basketball team gave him a sense of belonging.

"The team is always a brotherhood, and the team always has your back," he said. "It’s more than just a game."

Knox said he plans to attend the 28th annual Bryant-Jordan Foundation banquet, set for April 8 at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel. According to the AHSAA, each classification winner will receive $3,000 and the two overall winners, recognized as a scholar-athlete or for student achievement, will receive an additional $3,000.

Knights riding 11-game win streak

The Tuscaloosa Academy baseball team played five games in three days in Troy and came home with a championship. The Knights won the title in the Jonah McWaters Tournament, hosted by Pike Liberal Arts School.

Kyle Andrews, a senior infielder and pitcher, was the most valuable player. Robey Smalley, a pitcher, infielder and outfielder, made the all-tournament team, along with Daniel Winters and Taylor White, a second baseman and pitcher.

The five victories boosted Tuscaloosa Academy’s record to 18-3 and the winning streak to 11.

Patrick Jones coached Tuscaloosa Academy to the runner-up spot in the 2012 AISA Class AAA Tournament. Only one senior, Jon Boyd, played on that team. Including Andrews and White, this year’s senior class includes infielder and outfielder Greg Taylor; outfielder Clay Thomas; infielder and pitcher Parker Farley; first baseman Jonathan Plott; and first baseman J.D. Diaz.

"We have talked a little bit about last year, but it’s not something we’ve necessarily used as the focal point for the whole season," Jones said. "My whole deal is it’s a new year and a new team. We do have a whole lot more senior leadership this year than we did last year, so I feel like that’s kind of contributed to where we are at this point in the season."

Jones said last year’s team got hot for the playoff surge.

"This year we’ve been able to maintain a nice, even keel through the season as opposed to so many ups and downs, and that goes with a lot of senior leadership," Jones said.

Some of the seniors were on the football team that went 13-0 and claimed the school’s first AISA title. Jones said he wanted his players to guard against complacency.

"I was really worried about those guys coming out here and kind of being satisfied with what they had accomplished, especially with only two or three months left in their high school lives," Jones said. "They’ve done a really good job of staying hungry, and the senior class here knows they that they have a chance to do something. We’ve always been a very good basketball school. In the past we’ve had some success with baseball and hardly any success with football. These seniors have a chance to be very successful in both, and that’s big for our school."

Farley, the leadoff hitter, is batting .500. He leads the Knights with 21 steals and in runs scored. Andrews, the No. 4 hitter, is batting .473. He leads the team in RBIs and has three home runs. He also leads the pitching staff with a 0.80 earned run average. Austin Menard has a 4-0 pitching record. Jones said Lathan Johnson, who has been out a couple of weeks because of illness, would be the No. 1 starting pitcher.

Smalley, who hits sixth, has a .500 batting average. Nathaniel Schlesinger is a sophomore designated hitter who can pitch or play in the outfield.

Will Heath is a junior catcher who hits fifth.

"I think he’s the best defensive catcher in the area," Jones said. "He’s great with the pitchers, and he can hit the stew out of it when he gets into it."

Winters, the No. 9 hitter, is batting .471. Jones said Winters has "unbelievable speed."

"If I was coaching against us, I’d be very worried about the lineup," Jones said. "Daniel Winters would hit leadoff for just about any other team in the state. It’s just that we’re blessed to have a great leadoff hitter here in Parker Farley.

"Hitting, to me, is the toughest thing to do in sports. You’re not always going to be successful at it, so we try to make our outs as productive as they can be. We practice it a lot, and then we kind of try to track it through our games.

"That’s what our guys are doing really well, one through nine. They’re very, very productive, whether it’s getting guys over, driving guys in, driving pitch counts or even coming up with big doubles when we need them. It’s been a pretty good run through the first 21 games. I know the guys are having fun with it right now. They’re playing well, and they’re excited about the year. That’s all I can ask for right now is to have my seven seniors excited about the opportunity that’s in front of them, but also at the same time to be mature enough to know that it’s a long way to go."

Tuscaloosa Academy is ranked second behind Edgewood Academy in the latest Alabama Sports Writers Association AISA poll.

Hillcrest No. 4 in Class 6A

The Hillcrest softball team is 12-5 and is ranked fourth in the Class 6A poll. For the second straight season, Ted Swinney is coaching a team with only two seniors.

Anna Blake Barnette, who moved from third base to shortstop, signed in November to play for the University of Mobile. Ashley Hixon plays in right field.

Swinney’s 2012 team had seniors Callie Brister, a shortstop who signed with Samford, and outfielder Caitlyn Freeman. The Lady Patriots earned a berth in the AHSAA Tournament in Montgomery.

"This is a whole new year, and everybody starts over," Swinney said. "Obviously, Montgomery and all that’s great, but our goal is just to be the best team we can possibly be day-in and day-out. That’s all we really focus on. We don’t really focus on wins and losses. We just try to get better every single day."

Bree Fornis starts in center field and is the leadoff hitter.

"She does a great job in the outfield," Swinney said. "She really runs the ball down well. She does a great job of getting on base, seeing a lot of pitches. So far she has not had a strikeout.

"Anna Blake Barnette moved from leadoff to the No. 3 hole. She’s done a great job of producing for there."

Samantha Cummings, who plays first base, is the No. 4 hitter.

Allison Freeman and Karley Sanders, now juniors, shouldered most of the pitching load last season. Swinney said sophomore Hannah Payne gained some experience last year as a pitcher and is more involved in the rotation. All three are right-handers.

"It’s a great group of girls," Swinney said. "I enjoy going out there and working with them every day, and our coaching staff has done a great job and I really enjoy working with all them. We’ve got a long way to go, and we’ve got to work very hard, but so far things have gone well."

Unbeaten Lady Longhorns ranked No. 1

With a 14-0 record, the Marengo Academy softball team is ranked No. 1 in the latest ASWA poll.

Danny Stenz, who coached the girls basketball team to the runner-up spot in the Class A tournament, also coaches the softball team. The Lady Longhorns have won the Class AA championship three years in a row.

"I knew that after winning it the last three years we should be good," Stenz said. "I’m a little surprised that we’re undefeated because of the competition we played.

"Coming out of basketball, I didn’t expect us to come out of the chute that quick."

The Lady Longhorns have wins over Morgan Academy, Tuscaloosa Academy, Macon-East Academy and Pike Liberal Arts.

"Hitting has come and gone, like it always does, but wheat I’ve been real pleased with are our pitching and defense," said Stenz, who was chosen as the AISA Coach of the Year for girls basketball.

Second baseman Chandler Stenz, the coach’s daughter, has a .514 batting average, 20 runs and 17 steals as a leadoff hitter. Pitcher and center fielder Anna Michael Crocker is hitting .333 and has a 3-0 pitching record with no earned runs allowed in 18 innings. Senior shortstop Katie Tucker is hitting .500 with 19 RBIs and two home runs. Third baseman Brooke Smyly has a .462 average with 10 RBIs. First baseman Conner Etheridge has a .313 average and hasn’t made an error. Pitcher Andrea Edmonds has an 11-0 record, a 0.90 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Coach Stenz said senior catcher Reesa Holifield recently went 8-for-11 to boost her average to .321. Senior right fielder Taylor Barley has a .333 average. Senior left-fielder Alexia Johnson hits in the No. 4 spot. The other seniors are Marti Breckenridge and Carol Ann Gunter.

"I don’t look at the record, and I don’t think the girls really do," coach Stenz said. "They know we’re unbeaten, but what we want is that big trophy. That’s what we play for. It doesn’t matter what the record is."

TA Invitational starts Friday

The Tuscaloosa Academy Invitational Tournament, which brings together six baseball teams, begins Friday.

Patrick Jones, coach of the Knights, said the Friday schedule will have Tuscaloosa Academy playing Bessemer Academy at 10 a.m.; Tuscaloosa Academy facing Hooper Academy at noon; Hooper Academy playing Bessemer Academy at 2 p.m.; Patrician Academy playing Autauga Academy at 4; Pike Liberal Arts playing Patrician Academy at 6; and Pike Liberal Arts playing Autauga Academy at 8.

Jones said the first-round games will determine seeding for Saturday’s single-elimination tournament. Saturday’s games start at 10 a.m. and continue at noon, 2 p.m. and 4. The championship game is set for 6 p.m.

"It’s the start of our spring break, so it’s a good way to get a bunch of games in quick," Jones said. "I always like to give the guys some time off during spring break to kind of regroup. We’re going to play four or five games this weekend, and then ... play two more on Monday. Plus, it’s a good way to get different schools out here because we’re proud of the way our field looks, and we like to show it off a little bit. We take a lot of pride in it."

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.