Duncan, Watts: same passion, different in hoops background

Both Farragut High School graduates coach in Pilot Rocky Top League

KNOXVILLE — Zane Duncan and Brent Watts both have a passion for basketball.

Both went to Farragut High School and both have spent the past several years coaching in the Pilot Rocky Top Basketball League.

They also are friendly adversaries in the summer basketball league hosted by Knoxville Catholic High School and both look forward to mid-June each year and the start of another season.

Both attended small colleges.

But that’s the end of the similarities for the two FHS alumni.

Duncan, a 2004 graduate and son of U.S. Rep. John. J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. [R-2nd District that includes Farragut] was a student manager during his college days at Lincoln Memorial University.

At FHS, he never wore an Admirals uniform.

Watts, on the other hand, was a high school star for former Admirals boys varsity head coach [and current athletic director] Donald Dodgen.

After graduating from FHS in 1997, Watts went on to play at Maryville College, where he starred for the Scots.

Though Duncan was never a basketball star, he said he always loved sports and had an intense passion for basketball.

“I grew up in Farragut,” said Duncan, who recently completed his ninth season as a coach the summer hoops league that began in 2006, when former Tennessee Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl had basketball fans in a frenzy in Big Orange Country.

“We moved to Farragut when I was 15 and I went to Farragut schools from then until I graduated in 2004,” Duncan added.

“I always loved sports in general and basketball in particular, but I never had the God-given talent to play any of them.”

So he learned about basketball the hard way. While Watts played in front of cheering crowds at FHS and later at Maryville College, Duncan spent long and late nights at the LMU Railsplitters’ basketball facility washing uniforms and breaking down game films for the LMU coaching staff.

“I continued to grow my love for the game by doing the grunt work,” said Duncan, who is an avid fan of all the District of Columbia’s professional sports franchises [Redskins, Nationals, Capitals and Wizards].

“I spent a lot of late nights washing jerseys and watching films in dark rooms in the arena,” Duncan added about his humble LMU basketball learning curve.

Both Duncan and Watts [who have coached in the Pilot Rocky Top League since its inception] have families now and basketball sometimes takes a back seat until those three weeks in early summer.

“It’s a chance for us to get together and get to know these guys that we coach,” said Watts, who works as a medical device salesman. “It’s really fun getting to know those guys and it’s fun to be around the other coaches.

“It’s also a chance for us to get the chance to scratch that competitive itch that we all still have.”

Duncan, who is a member of the Tennessee State Parole Board, agreed.

“It’s the same thing for me,” he said. “It’s kind of like a three-week vacation from your regular routine.”

The Pilot Rocky Top League is competitive, but it’s also fun for the players, fans and coaches.

“When these guys play in this league, it’s kind of like NASCAR and you take the restrictor plates off of them,” Watts said. “These guys want to compete and they want to win.

“But they also want to show the fans what they can do. They’re competitors and when they get back to their schools, they want to brag to their [college] teammates that they’ve won a championship,” Watts added.

“For me, it’s also fun to look at the stats in February and March and see how these guys are doing during the season. It’s fun to see if they’ve gotten confidence from their time in the league where they play against some of the best college and professional players around.”

As small college guys, both Duncan and Watts love to see the NCAA Division II and Division III players succeed against the UT Volunteers playing in the league.

“Sometimes it’s not a talent thing. It has to do strictly with size,” Watts said. “A kid that’s 6-[foot]-6 and 215 [pounds] gets a scholarship and a kid that’s 6-[foot]-4, 200 does not.

“You have kids from LMU that [come from] the best Division II team in the country,” Watts added. “You also have kids from Maryville, a Division III team that holds the record for most consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

“They’ve gone to the tournament for 13 straight years.”

For Duncan, that’s also an upside to the summer league.

“If you look on [Commissioner] Andre [Whitehead’s] website, he has the top scorers in the league. And most of the top scorers are from LMU, Carson-Newman, Maryville or some of the other smaller schools,” Duncan said. “It gives those guys the chance to show what they can do.”

It’s also fan-friendly.

“This is a better venue for fans than Thompson-Boling Arena,” Watts said. “Here [at KCHS], you can have 2,000 people and the fans are about four feet away from you.

“Thompson-Boling is great but it’s far away for fans and they’re trying to get 20,000 people in there,” he added.

Duncan said the intimacy of the high school gym is great for fans.

“They get to interact with some of their favorite UT and other college players,” he said. “And they get to see some great players and the occasional NBA player up close.”