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December 11, 2019     The Monroe County Reporter
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Page 63 saRefiorter December II, 20l9 Dogs’ 20 19420 success hinges on senior stars By Richard Dumas forsyth©mymcmet With seven seniors in the rotation, an experienced 2019-20 Mary Persons Bulldogs basketball team appears poised to make a run at the program’s first region championship in nine years. The Bulldogs, who finished 9-20 a year ago, are off to a sizzling 5-1 start, including wins in ‘ each of their first two Region 2-AAAA games. Leading the way for MP are a trio of senior guards, four-year starter Dee Morton and returning starters Maurice “Mo” Shannon and Ty Bouie. ‘ MP head coach Greg Nix said those three guards, all of whom have broken the 20-point mark already this season, will likely be the team’s top three scorers. Nix said, “They’ve got a lot of experience, and they’ve really dedicated themselves to our program.” Nix said Morton had to rebuild his confi— dence after a difficult junior season in which he first endured a dreadful shooting slump and then later suffered a season-ending hand inqu Nix said of Morton: “I’ve put a lot of pres- sure on him and M0 and Ty to lead. And it’s not easy for them. They just love to play basketball. You’ve got to have some guys on your team where it’s got to be more than me to say something. So the other night at halftime with Spalding, he spoke up that we’ve got to give a better effort on defense and do a better job. He came out and upped his game and played harder and meant business and ev- erybody else came on with him. He guarded No. 3 (Spalding sharpshooter Kaleb Banks), and I told him at the time: ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna do it. Let me do it.’ I said, ‘You better keep him in front of you then.’ He did. He did a pretty good job on him.” Nix said Shannon, MP’s top returning scorer, has always been a standout perimeter shooter. However, Nix challenged Shannon in the off-season to develop a better handle so he can be more aggressive going to the basket. “A lot of defenses are going to be going out there on him quick, and the best time to drive by somebody is when they’re coming at you and closing out on you,” Nix said. “So he’s (Shannon) gotten better at that, plus he’s good on the fast break and can get to the rim. I’ve just really pressed on him that he’s got to finish a lot of times.” Nix said Bouie, primarily an offensive after— thought early in his varsity career, has taken his game to new levels, scoring 24 or more points in each of MP’s first three games of the season. Bouie, who despite his short stature also led MP in rebounding in the early season, will also be the team’s main ball-handler. “We run some plays where he’s coming off of on-ball screens,” Nix said of Bouie. “He’s really good if a defender goes under a screen he can knock down a three. Ifthat defender tries to get over that screen, he can get by. And if somebody steps over, he can deliver the pass or he’s got a real good change of pace that he can still maneuver and get to the basket and finish and get fouled. They’re all pretty good ball—handlers and good shooters. But then you take Dee with his size and strength, he can post up some. And then you’ve got Ty that has that change of pace. And then you’ve got Maurice, you think when he shoots it it’s gonna go in. He doesn’t take that many bad shots. Even if you think it might be a bad shot, it’s still got a chance.” MP’s other four seniors are all varsity new- comers. Center JaQuavious “Qua” Morgan had never played organized basketball before but immediately stepped into the starting lineup while the Dogs waited for the squad’s four football players at the beginning of the season. Morgan, who narrowly made the squad, had 11 points in his first-ever game, an 87-60 win at Pike County on Nov. 21. Nix said of Morgan: “He practiced'the whole summer, and in our fall workouts he was there all the time. I just told him, ‘I don’t know how much you’re gonna play, but I’m gonna keep you because of your determination. I admire that? And then, we had to start the season at Pike, and he’s got to play. He starts. And in that game he had 11 points and 8 rebounds. And then I just let him start all the games so far. He practices hard. He works hard. And we need guys like that on our team. I’m just real proud of him.” Nix re-recruited to the program another senior, Tra Jones, who skipped basketball dur- ing his junior year. Nix said of Jones, who will share time at cen- ter with Morgan: “He was a big difference in the two games he’s played. He’s a good passer, good defender, plays hard. And I’m really glad he’s back” The other two seniors are a pair of reserve guards, shooting guard Derrick Smith and point guard Dennis Swain. Nix said Smith has a knack for driving to the basket and finishing around the rim while Swain is arguably the team’s quickest player and could be a defensive force on the perimeter. At least one junior will be a constant pres- ence in the starting lineup. Small forward Alex Brown, another varsity newcomer, has a wide variety of skills Nix hopes will be on display in 2019-20. “Alex is extremely quick, can get in the lane, he’s got a little floater, and he’s got a nice midrange shot when he’s got his feet set,” Nix said. “And he’s willing to do whatever it takes. He’ll get on the floor. He’ll defend the other team’s best player. I told him before the year that I thought that if we got or 10 points a game from him and he took care of the ball and made good decisions and defended and rebounded that this would be a great year. I call him the glue ’ Another junior, Adrian Hughley, a Dogs’ football standout, will also get playing time off the bench at guard while two other juniors will see extensive action in the post. Center Lamont Jones will likely get some starts after playing a lot on varsity as a sophomore. Nix said because of his size and strength, the 6’4” Jones’ development could be the most impor- tant factor in how successful the Bulldogs are this year. Joining Jones in the paint is perhaps MP’s best story of the season. Power forward Amari “AJ.” Jefferson made his 2019-20 debut in MP’s 67-59 home win over West Laurens on Friday one day after receiving clearance from his doctors for full contact. After suffer- ing from major kidney disease for more than a year, Jefferson received a donor kidney from Donna Wilson, the mother of Lady Dogs’ standout Katelyn Wilson, in August, and the healthy kidney has enabled the talented Jef- ferson to resume his basketball career. Nix said of Jefferson’s debut on Friday: “It felt good I’m proud for him. I’m proud for his family I really appreciate our fans, our people in Forsyth and Mary Persons, being proud for him and cheering for him when he went into the game.” With four-time defending champion Upson-Lee having lost several major con— tributors, Nix said Region 2-AAAA is as up for grabs as it has been in years. “I think we’re capable of going (on a state playoff run) if we will improve,” Nix said. “Sometimes our players, they love to play basketball, but they don’t hate losing. And so, ihLAT ..411 “Mi... :4» el—ioir primary goal for us to win a region championship, to win big, to go not just to the state tournament but make it their goal to win a game in there or two, this team can do it. The reason I am so high on this group is that they are collectively good guys that like each other. And they have the ability to score. And if every player on our team will understand, will figure out and ac- cept their role, we can be pretty good.” With 11 quality players, Nix said the depth and versatility of his 2019-20 team is as strong as he’s had in his eight seasons at MP. “We can play with three guards and two post players or we can go four guards and a big man,” Nix said. “Or we can just go five guards and have Dee kind of take care of anybody around the basket And if we need to speed it up, especially if we’re behind, make the game faster and more chaotic, we can go quick. I hope this team can go down as being one of my better teams, but the better teams that I’ve coached in all my years could play fast and then they could play slow if they had to, if another team made us do that. The best teams can do both.” After the season-opening road victory over Pike County, MP suffered its lone loss of the season in an 80—76 home loss to non-region Taylor County on Nov. 23. The Bulldogs then rebounded with a 66- 54 home win over Tattnall Square on Nov. 26 before opening re- gion play with 79-74 home win over Spalding on Tuesday, Dec. 3 while getting a combined 51 points from Morton (26) and Shannon (25). Trailing by five, 32-27, at halftime, Morton exploded for four three-pointers in the third quarter alone to put MP in front by seven, 53-46, through three quarters. Morton then sealed a narrow 79-74 win with a pair of clutch free throws with 19.5 seconds to play. The Bulldogs then recorded their second straight region home win with a 67 -59 victory over West Laurens on Friday. Trailing 25-23 late in the second quarter, the Bulldogs went on a 14—0 run spanning the final few minutes of the first half and the first couple of minutes ’ of the third quarter to seize a 12-point lead at 37-25. Still leading by 12 at 46-34, MP then went on a 7-0 run to close the third quarter to take a commanding 19-point advantage at 53—34 into the final period. The Raiders then went on a mammoth spurt of their own, outscoring MP 19-4 to cut the Dogs’ lead to just four at 57-53 late in the game. However, Morton knocked down a pair of free throws and then banged in a right elbow three-point- er to push MP’s lead back out to double digits, and the Bulldogs held on for a 67-59 win. One night later, MP traveled to non-region FPD and secured a 68-62 win to improve to 5-1. The Bulldogs were next scheduled to host non-region Northeast (Macon) at 7:30 pm. on Tuesday, Dec. 10. MP will then travel to non-region Tattnall Square for a road contest at 7:30 p.m. on Friday before returning home to host non-region rival Jackson at 7:30 pm. on Saturday. Meanwhile, the MP JV boys basketball team, coached by new assistant Justen Chambers, will next travel to Tattnall Square for a road contest at 4:45 pm. on Friday. The JV Bulldogs will then return home to host Jackson at 4:30 pm. on Saturday. The MP JV boys squad will then host Griffin at 6:45 pm. on Monday, Dec. 16. Also, the MP 9th Grade boys basketball team, coached by another new assistant, Dylan Dupree, will next host Howard at 6 pm. on Thursday. The 9th Grade Bulldogs will then play another home contest against Perry at 10 am. on Saturday before hosting Griffin at 5:30 pm. on Monday, Dec. 16. In addition, the Monroe County Middle School boys basketball team will next host Clifton Ridge at 6 pm. on Thursday. The C- , Team Bulldogs will then host Gray Station at 6 pm. on Tuesday, Dec. 17. MONROE COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL 20I9-20 BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM: Pictured from left to right on the front row: Korey Hart, Hunt McAteer, Christian Little, Nemo Jones, Jacobi Jones, Ty Brantley, Malaki Knight and Seth Davis. Pictured from left to right on I the back row: Jaise Davis, JeSean Wil- son, connor Scott, Ty Dumas, Javeon Tatum, Duke Watson, Jack Gordon, Adrian Barkley and Jor- dan Ogletree. Not pictured: head coach Michael Smallwood. (Photo/Richard Dumas) MONROE COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL 2019-20 GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM Pictured from left to right to the front row: Abbey Stem- bridge, Lola Talton, Qua’Nesho Brown, Samiya Morris, Anaia Lucear, Zario Wilson and .lhori Shannon. Pictured from left to right on the back row: head coach Hannah Grossman, Jayla Barkley (manager), Oneisha Walker, India Walker, Jadacia Wilson, Amiya Davis, Haiar Baldwin-Tales, Keniiah Lyons, Jotaria Hardy, Zoe Shan- non (manager), and Juden Mann (man- ager). (Photo/Richard Dumas)