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For The Lancaster News
BUFORD – Considering all the challenges facing the 2011-12 Buford High School varsity basketball team, BHS head coach Neil Couch enters his third season optimistic and upbeat.
The 3-21 record paved the way for many players to gain valuable experience and court time.
“I’m excited about this year’s team,” Couch said. “We have probably the deepest team since I have been here. That will allow us to play more of the style we want to play.”
One advantage in having a deep bench will see the Jackets playing more man-to-man defense instead of zone.
“We want to dictate and put pressure on the ball defensively,” Couch said. “That will hopefully force some turnovers and allow us to score in transition.”
Buford will be led by seniors Silas Moore, Evan Joplin, Nate Saxon and Mikeem McKinney.
Joplin earned the Team Player Award and Moore reaped the Best Defensive Award last winter.
“Their leadership should help us throughout the season, especially once conference play begins,” Couch said.
The region, according to Couch, should be as tough.
“Indian Land and Andrew Jackson have been picked to battle for first place. Cheraw and Central return fairly experienced teams as well, followed by Chesterfield and then the Jackets.
“It will be a tough region,” Couch said. “I really think we have a legitimate shot at the playoffs with this team. We don’t have the biggest team in terms of size, so we’re going to be the kind of team that doesn’t mind getting dirty, a real nitty-gritty type team.”
The Jackets will be led down low by juniors Corey Bracey and Jacoby Funderburk.
Bracey reaped the Jacket Pride Award last season.
BHS is a more guard-oriented team, however.
Dee Williams, Orantez Coleman and Garrett Crenshaw add depth in the BHS backcourt.
Crenshaw was the Junior Jackets’ MVP last season.
“We have a quick and athletic team which should allow us to force tempo,” Couch said. “We want to play fast.”
The versatility of guard-forward Kholby Pate should stretch teams defensively. Returnee Jesse Stacks and newcomer Tyrus McGriff complete this year’s roster.
Pate, the Best Offensive Award winner last season, hit 12.7 points per game.
“If we want to be successful this season, we can’t be our worst enemy,” Couch said. “We have to stay out of foul trouble, we can’t turn the ball over and we’ve got to convert easy baskets and free throws.”
BHS has not won a playoff game since the 2006 season, the last time it finished the regular season with a winning record.
A year ago, the Lady Yellow Jackets, who finished fourth in the region with a 2-8 record, went 11-10.
The fourth-place finish was good enough for a trip to postseason play, but unfortunately the Lady Jackets were soundly defeated by Columbia.
“We are not just satisfied with making the playoffs,” BHS girls coach T.J. Armbrust said.
Armbrust, in his fifth season as the Lady Jackets coach, said he believes this years squad can accomplish more.
“If we work hard and learn from every game, we have the potential to be a very good, solid team,” he said.
BHS is picked to finish third in region play behind a very strong Cheraw team followed by Andrew Jackson.
“It will be a tough region, no doubt,” Armbrust said. “We control how good we can be.”
To reach that potential, Armbrust will be looking to his two seniors to lead his somewhat younger squad.
Megan Deese and Carly Bailey bring experience to the forward and point-guard positions, respectively.
Bailey, a team MVP, hit 11.9 points and grabbed 4.6 rebounds.
Erica Blackmon, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds, will be relied upon to share those duties with Bailey. Blackmon won the Offensive Award last season.
Blackmon and Bailey earned all-region honors last year.
“We are pretty deep at the point,” Armbrust said. “Those two are especially quick which will allow us to do some of the things we want to do offensivly.”
Junior Mikayla Hannah, who will work at guard and forward, is the only other returnee from last season.
Newcomers Ashley Roberts, Gabriella Davis and Adrianna Ray should add depth at forward.
“As experienced as we are at the guard position, we are as inexperienced at the post and forward,” Armburst said. “That could hurt us a bit early on, but hopefully not much of a factor as we get into region play.”
That, in turn, could lead to questions concerning Buford’s ability to rebound more effectively.
“We need to improve on that aspect of our game from last year,” Armbrust said. “We also have to capitalize on our opportunities when we have them. Easy baskets, points off turnovers and other little things that add up during the course of a game.”
Sophomores Valerie Jones and Courtney Snipes along with junior Tatyana Stewart, the Junior Lady Jackets MVP, round out the BHS roster.
“We’re going to have to stay healthy to have the kind of season we want to have,” Armburst said. “We are only 10 deep, so injuries hopefully won’t be a factor for us this season.”