A week of no games and limited practice for the WCHS Pioneers did not stop awards from coming to the basketball team.
Seniors C.J. Taylor and Dee Spates were selected to the 6-AAA All-District team. Senior Aiden Cummings and sophomore Kaden Rutledge were honorable mentions, and Rutledge was also named to the All-District defensive team. Last and not least, Pioneer head coach Chris Sullens was named Coach of the Year in the district.
Taylor was named All-District for the third year in a row after averaging 18.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the regular season. In one four-game stretch, C.J. scored above 30 points in every game for an average of 34 points per game.
White County may have voted C.J. to the district all-defensive team for the steal he made in the overtime game at Sparta that led to his winning basket in the final seconds of OT.
C.J. has performed at an all-star level on the basketball court that has followed a phenomenal football season in which he was named Mr. Football. C.J. is excited about getting all-district, but he is more excited about the team earning the No. 1 seed for the district tournament.
C.J. said, “It is a blessing. Glad to be the number one seed. You wanna win the district championship? You gotta come through us – at the Dalt.”
The floor general for the Pioneers, Spates was voted all-district and is considered by many to be the top point guard in the district. Spates has averaged 14.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. There have been several games this season that featured Spates exploding like a rocket at the beginning of a game to jumpstart the Pioneers.
Spates has been a dominating force all over the court. Sometimes Spates has been the shortest player on the court but outleaped everyone to get a rebound. His hustle on defense and ability to drive to the hoop have been difference-makers in games the Pioneers have needed to win. The Pioneers have counted on Spates to control their offense, and he has performed at an all-star level.
Dee Spates commented on his award, “It’s great that I got it. Our season is like everyone else’s, but we want it more.”
Cummings has been the Pioneers’ dominant low-post player, often scoring and rebounding at pivotal moments in a game. The Pioneers are simply a different team when Cummings is working well around the basket, putting up tough shots to keep the Pioneers on track.
Cummings has good size and body control in the paint. For a big man, he has soft hands and makes a lot of points down low off the glass. This is the second year in a row Cummings has been named honorable mention in the district.
Cummings commented on the award, “It’s just an individual award. There are better things out there such as a district championship and state that I’d much rather have. I think people still don’t respect us like they should. So, we gotta show them what we are really about.”
Rutledge was Freshman of the Year in the district last year, and this season he has been a solid starter for the Pioneers. Rutledge has started every game and his head coach expects Rutledge to be a major scorer for the Pioneers in the future. He was also named to the all-district defensive team.
Coach Chris Sullens respects Rutledge’s work ethic. Sullens said, “Proud of him being selected for an award on the end of the floor that goes unnoticed at times. He does all we ask him to do on the defensive end and he is improving every day. He wants to be better at every phase of the game.”
Sullens is in his seventh season as head coach of the Warren County High School Pioneer basketball team. He was won 114 games, and he has brought Pioneer basketball back to a very competitive level. His teams are known for their hustle and tough, physical play.
Being named Coach of the Year by his district peers is meaningful recognition in Warren County’s last season in this current district. Next season the Pioneers will be competing in a new district, but Sullens intends on still scheduling Cookeville and White County, two longtime rivals.
White County head coach Eric Mitchell said, “Congrats and it is well deserved.” Coach Sullens considers Mitchell a friend, and their families see each other in the offseason. White County and Warren County were both 6-2 and tied for first place in the district, and Warren County won the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the district.
Coach Sullens commented on his two seniors, C.J. Taylor and Dee Spates being named all-district, “They are both deserving. They have played really well this season as expected. Both are important to our team’s success, and they will be vital in the upcoming tournament games.”
Coach Sullens was modest in his response to being named Coach of the Year. Sullens said, “All credit goes to staff and players who work every day to make Pioneer basketball better than the day before.”