NAUGATUCK — It will be like déjà vu in Naugatuck this hoops season as longtime Mingo County mentor and former Tug Valley head coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson has returned to the sidelines to lead the Panthers.

Thompson returns to Naugatuck where he served as the head coach for eight years from 2007-15 and led the Panthers to a 152-51 record, back-to-back state championships in 2012 and 2013, five state tournament appearances, and seven sectional titles.

“This will be my last coaching endeavor, and I am going to give everything I’ve got,” Thompson said after being named coach after Edwyn May resigned back in the spring. “I know I’m trying to make lightning strike twice here and that’s hard to do, but it can happen.”

Fast forward to December and with less than a week remaining until the start of the regular season, coach Thompson is chomping at the bits for the start of the season.

“It’s great to be back out here, I’ve missed the game. My wife ran me out, she got tired of me complaining and trying to find something to do every winter,” Thompson said jokingly. “Thankfully Dr. (Doug) Ward, the community, and the faculty gave me a chance and I really appreciate that. Here I am now, I’m excited and I’m really excited for these kids.”

Coach Thompson has a good reason to be excited as he is taking over a Tug Valley team that returns six out of its top seven players from a team that finished with a 13-13 record but fell just one game shy of the Class A State Tournament in Charleston. with a 59-53 loss to eventual runner-up Parkersburg Catholic in the Region IV co-final.

Four of the five starters return including all-state recipients junior guard Caleb May (14 ppg.) and sophomore forward Ethan Colegrove (14 ppg.) May led the team averaging six assists per game while Colegrove led the team in rebounds grabbing down seven a contest.

Also back is sharpshooting junior Ian Reed as he averaged 10 points a game a season ago for the Panthers and hit a team leading 37 3-pointers while also tossing in 2.5 assists, three rebounds and two steals per game.

Junior forward Easton Davis is also back on the inside after he averaged eight points and five rebounds a season ago. He, along with Colegrove, will once again supply the size inside for Tug Valley.

“Edwyn did a great job with these guys last year, he, Tyler (Hodge), and the guys they knew what they were doing. They got them ready,” Thompson said. We have some experienced guards in Caleb (May) and Ian (Reed) which always helps. It’s kind of like a role reversal, when I left four years ago. I left him a full-cupboard so to speak and basically it’s a full-cupboard again.”

Sophomore Zack Savage (4.3 ppg.) is expected to step into some big minutes this season as is junior Joby Sorrell (2.4 ppg.), both of who saw plenty of action off of the bench for Tug Valley last season.

Coach Thompson is excited about the potential of this team, and in particular the presence they will have in the paint with their post players, including 6-foot-6 sophomore center Matt Linville.

“Easton Davis and Ethan Colegrove are both big kids for Class A and then I’m really looking forward to Matt Linville hopefully earning some minutes for us this year, he is the tallest kid on the team,” Thompson said. “Zack Savage is a big ol’ boy too, he’s not as tall as the others but he’s a big ol’ boy. So We do have some size this year, which is always a good thing.”

Tug Valley will again face a daunting schedule particularly for a Class A school as they will play two games in the Hatfield McCoy Shootout, a game in Chapmanville’s Country Roads Classic, and home-and-homes against Class AA schools Westside, and Mingo Central as well as an away game at Class AA Robert C. Byrd.

Tug Valley also has home-and-homes with Class A powers Notre Dame, Greater Beckley Christian and Charleston Catholic and home-and-homes with sectional foes Huntington St. Joe, Tolsia and Van. The Panthers also added a rematch with Parkerburg Catholic as well as a home game with Williamstown.

“The schedule is a good one, it is very challenging, I guess it would be possible we could finish up around .500 again this year.” coach Thompson said. “ They were 13-13 last year with a tough schedule, but since a lot of these kids are now juniors I hope we eek out 1 or 2 more wins. But any old-timer will tell you, the regular season is supposed to prepare you for the tournament. I’ll take 9-12 in the regular season if it means we are playing on that final Saturday in March.”

Since it is his second go-around leading the black and silver, Coach Thompson is well aware of the the high expectations of Panther Nation when it comes to their basketball.

“There’s family, church, and Tug Valley basketball down here, and sometimes that order even gets mixed up,” Thompson said. “They really follow their teams, they come out and travel well...they expect success, they expect a certain level of play and I hope I can deliver. They want a winner.”

Thompson will be reunited on the sidelines this season with an old friend as former Williamson head coach Curt Fletcher has joined the Tug Valley staff. Thompson was an assistant for Williamson when Fletcher led the Wolfpack to the Class A title in 2001.

They will be joined on the sidelines by longtime Tug Valley assistant coach Tyler Hodge, Ronnie Blankenship, David “Moose” Ledger. Dr. Jerry Mounts, Oddie Farley, and Bill Watson will be keeping the stats.

“I’m particularly excited about our staff this year, I got Curt (Fletcher) coming here this year he’s going to help us out and I’m excited about that. Tyler is (Hodge) back, coach “Moose” Ledger who helped with the football team he’s out here with us, and then coach (Ronnie) Blankenship and Dr. (Jerry) Mounts. We have a really great staff this year.”

Tug Valley will open up the regular season with a home game on Dec. 10 against Greater Beckley Christian. The Panthers upset GBC last season in a season-opening 56-55 thriller in Naugatuck. Tip-off against the Crusaders is set for 7 p.m. in the TVHS gymnasium.

2019-20 Tug Valley Basketball Schedule

12/10 7:00Pm H — Greater Beckley Christian

12/19 8:00Pm A — Country Roads Classic At Chapmanville

12/21 6:00Pm H — Notre Dame

12/27 7:30Pm H — Van Senior/Middle School

12/28 7:30Pm H — Charleston Catholic

01/03 7:30Pm H — Tolsia

01/07 7:30Pm A — Saint Joseph Central

01/10 Tbdpm H — Hatfield/Mccoy Shootout

01/11 Tbdpm H — Hatfield/Mccoy Shootout

01/14 7:30Pm A — Westside

01/17 7:30Pm A — Notre Dame

01/18 4:00Pm A — Robert C. Byrd

01/21 7:30Pm H — Mingo Central

01/28 7:30Pm A — Tolsia

01/31 Tbdpm A — Parkersburg Catholic

02/01 7:00Pm A — Greater Beckley Christian

02/04 7:30Pm A — Mingo Central

02/07 7:00Pm H — Williamstown

02/11 7:30Pm H — Saint Joseph Central

02/13 7:30Pm A — Van Senior/Middle School

02/22 7:30Pm A — Charleston Catholic

02/25 7:30Pm H — Westside

2019-20 Tug Valley Panthers Roster

Name Grade

Ethan Varney Sr

Caleb May Jr

Ian Reed Jr

Joby Sorrell Jr

Easton Davis Jr

Justin Hall Jr

Ethan Colegrove Soph

Zack Savage Soph

Matt Linville Soph

Nick Alley Soph

Brennan Pack Soph

Kyle Hodge Soph

Kobe Smith Soph

Jacob Sturgell Fr

Isaac Deskins Fr

Jonathan Wagoner Fr

Tyler Sheppard Fr

Dalton Sorrell Fr

Ryan Spaulding Fr

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.