Jett Montgomery vs Summit

Jett Montgomery

Mark Wilkins never had a basketball team ranked No. 1 in the state before this season.

Neither did Independence.

The Eagles (23-3) soared to the top of the Associated Press Class 4A boys rankings last week.

“It’s definitely a pretty cool deal,” said Wilkins, Independence's head coach.

Independence and Brentwood Academy might be the only two boys teams from Williamson County to ever earn top spots in the rankings.

BA was ranked first last year, in 2017, and 2016. 

“We’re thankful for it for sure, we think it’s awesome, but we also still have a lot of goals ahead of us,” Wilkins said. “So we’re proud, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We know that no goals are reached in mid-January.”

Wilkins is in his second year at Indy preceded by six at South Gibson County.

Independence guard Jett Montgomery, a Mr. Basketball candidate who is averaging 23 points per game, wasn’t surprised by the top ranking.

“Well, to be honest, I expected it,” Montgomery said. “I thought we should have been No. 1 a long time ago, obviously. But it’s a big honor, it’s really cool.”

Independence was ranked fourth two weeks ago before passing then No. 1 William Blount, No. 2 Bartlett and No. 3 Germantown.

Eagles guard Tylan Lewis has seen positive and negative reactions to his team’s top ranking.

“It’s a lot of good and bad things,” said Lewis, who is averaging 10 ppg. “There are a lot of people that think we should and a lot of people think that we shouldn’t.”

Indy has won nine straight games, but there are still plenty of doubters.

“They think everyone can beat us, like, we’ve won some close games that we shouldn’t have,” Lewis said.

Nolensville (12-11) gave Indy a scare Tuesday when Matt Witt’s blocked shot in the closing seconds preserved a 48-47 win.

Less than three weeks earlier, the Eagles routed the Knights 72-36 in Thompson’s Station.

“They do a really good job of making teams play to their tempo, which is fast,” Nolensville coach Drew Giudice said. “They do that with really good pressure in their full court and also in the half court with really good transition offense.”

Indy speeds up the game and forces opponents to make mistakes.

Nolensville slowed the game down and held multiple leads in the fourth quarter, taking their last with 18 seconds left.

“We really just had long possessions on offense, and they did not want to come out and play man to man,” Giudice said. “They stayed zone.”

Giudice believes Indy tries to get 65-80 possessions in a typical game. Nolensville held the Eagles to about 40 possessions.

More and more opponents are likely to slow it down against Indy.

“We’re going to try to put more pressure on them and kind of get in their face and speed up the game a little bit more,” said Witt, a 6-foot-6 senior center who is often the team’s third-leading scorer. “Hopefully, we could get steals and deflections and leak out and get points from there.”

Witt said the Eagles like to get the score in the 60s or 70s, but opponents are now trying to keep it in the 40s.

Montgomery is the most difficult Eagle to contain.

“He is super skilled and obviously that comes from a lot of his hard work in the gym, so there is a lot of respect people have for him,” Giudice said. “He does a good job of getting to his spots and taking the shots that he likes to have.”

Giudice believes senior guard Josh Owens is the Eagles’ most underrated player.

“No. 10 does an amazing job of knowing his role and making winning high school basketball plays,” Giudice said. “He’s a great player that impacts winning. Just taking the right shots at the right time, he doesn’t force his shots, he takes a charge, he’s always in good position defensively, makes hustle plays.”

Owens, who at 5-9 is Indy’s smallest player, makes plays the casual fan might not notice, but every coach appreciates.

“I think that kid definitely doesn’t get enough credit for that team’s success,” Giudice said. “If he only scores four or six points in a game, he can still really impact winning in a big way.”

Indy’s Houston Hicks, a 6-9 junior center, has a surprisingly good three-point shot for a big man.

Forwards Brayden Buck and Korben Walling and several others have made important contributions.

“I think there’s a good unselfishness with this group,” Wilkins said. “They want to see the other person or brother on the team be successful. We don’t care who scores, we just want to score.”

Indy (6-0) will get another tough test Friday against Ravenwood (14-10, 4-2) in District 12-4A.

A win would clinch the district title for Indy, but the Eagles barely beat the Raptors 45-44 more than two weeks ago.

And the No. 1 ranking makes Indy a much bigger target.

“I mean, everyone wants to beat the No. 1 team, so if people see Indy on their schedule, they’re looking to come play their hardest and try to get the best sets in to win the game,” Lewis said.

Class 4A rankings

1. Independence (8) 23-3 115 1

2. Hillsboro 18-3 (3) 103 3

3. Bartlett 17-8 (1) 81 2

4. William Blount 23-4 78 4

5. Oak Ridge 20-3 59 T7

6. Germantown 17-5 47 5

7. Bradley Central 17-3 40 9

8. Gallatin 19-5 38 10

9. Rossview 20-4 27 NR

10. Houston 15-6 24 NR

Others receiving 12 or more points: Cleveland 18

Ranking, school, record, first-place votes, total votes, last week’s ranking