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Forsyth, Georgia
December 12, 2018     The Monroe County Reporter
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December 12, 2018

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December 12, 2018 Page 5C f RepOrter m By Richard Dumas For the first time in a handful of years, the Mary Persons boys basketball team heads into the realm of the unknown after graduating a number of key contributors, including all-time leading scorer Cam Holden. After graduating seven seniors, including a trio of starters, MP head coach Greg Nix could have had a youth movement and made 2018-19 a rebuilding year. Instead, Nix turned to a number of veteran MP gridiron greats to employ their skills on the basketball court in hopes of extending the Bulldogs' streak of state playoff appear- ances to five. MP quarterback J.T. Hartage and run- ning back Quen Wilson are just a few of the Bulldogs' football stars who are expected to receive major minutes on MP'S basketball squad. Nix said of his 11-man varsity squad, which features seven seniors and four juniors: "I think we've got seven or eight guys that are capable of starting. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. This senior group has won since they've been in middle school in football and in basketball. They've won a lot of games. But this is the first time that this group has been back together since the 10th grade in basketball. And so, I've opened the door to them coming in and having that opportu- nity to finish out their senior year winning in basketball:' With several varsity players, induding Hartage and Wilson, having missed entire seasons during their high school careers, Nix will turn to his two returning starters, senior shooting guard Desmond Williams and junior point guard Dee Morton, from the winningest squad in program history (23 victories in 2017-18) to lead the way until the rest of the team gets re-acdimat: ed. Both Williams and Morton are out- standihg perimeter shooters who will be counted upon to carry the scoring load. Two Other juniors, shooting guard Mau- rice Shannon and point guard Ty Bouie, played reserve roles on last year's varsity team and could step into MP's four-guard starting lineup in2018-19. Nix said of his four returning guards: "They've got to take on a bigger role. And I don't think they're afraid of it It's hard to improve on 23-5. Last year when our football players joined us we were already 4-0 and we had four starters already out here. And now it's different because half of our team is gonna be football players. And so now, I think it's going to take us a good three or four weeks to start getting some chemistry and getting in basketball condi- tion and getting in basketball mode:' With so many new faces, the Bulldogs are, as expected, off to a slow start, begin- ning the season with six losses in seven games. Nix said for MP to be successful, the Bulldogs will have to elevate their defensive intensity to levels they have yet to reach. "Last we scored 80 points a game, and I don't know that we're gonna score 80 a game this year" Nix said. "I haven't ever set a goal as far as how many points we're gonna score, but usually my teams have been around 70. But I Mt like this summer when we played, I felt like we're gonna have to be better defensively. Not that we've been bad defensively, but I don't know that we're gonna be able to outscore everybody:' NIX said he wants MP to play the physi- cal brand of defense that has made the Bulldogs successful over the past several seasons, but he doesn't think this crop of MP players wants to play that way. "I want to go 32 minutes of up and down" NIX said. "But these guys, they don't like to play defense like that. My vision, what I want, is lockdown 5-on-5 man press all over the place for 32 minutes. And even if I'm moving people in and out, that is not their basketball mentality no matter how much I try to make it that:' Therefore, NIX said MP will primarily employ the matchup zone defense favored by his new top lieutenant, "associate" coach Kurt Greene, who led the MP girls squad to three straight Region 2-AAAA titles from 2012-14. "I really didn't want to be a zone team because of our lack of length, but I think it's what they believe in" NIX said of his players. "Even though I've been doing this a long time and I'm able to many times funnel my team where I want them to go, I think this time I'm gonna have to really look and pay attention to what we do best and what they feel like they do best:' As for discovering what his team is most effective at doing, Nix said he will turn to coaching contemporary Greene for advice far more frequently than with the younger assistant coaches he has employed in recent years. " ' n"N" Its been fu,ax said of coaching alongside his longtime friend. "We don't always agree. But he still lobbies and pushes me, which is what I wanted. I wanted him to come in and get his defen- sive principles in and him focus on that. And he's really done a good job. He's really been anything and everything I wanted him to be:' In addition to Hartage, Wilson and Wil- liams in the senior class, MP will feature a pair of varsity returners, forward Ken&ell Watts and guard Brandon Hogan, and a pair of varsity newcomers, forward Gerard Evans and guard Dre Zellner. Along with returning juniors Bouie, Morton and Shannon, MP will also add another varsity newcomer, junior center Sherriod Jordan. The always powerful Region 2-AAAA will once again feature two-time defend- ing state champion, Upson-Lee, the heavy favorite to win a fourth straight region crown. However, Nix said other squads, including Spalding and West Laurens, each of whom defeated the Bulldogs last week, are expected to be much-improved as well. As for his own team, Nix said it's too soon to tell what MP will achieve this season. "I think the real key to our season, the real key, is leadership;' Nix said. "We've had the same leader for the last three years with Cam:' As for who can replace Holden in that critical role, Nix said he's still not sure, which leads to the unpredictability. "I think that Dee has the capability to lead, but I'm not always sure he wants that responsibility. So I'm thinking as a group, J.T. and Quen and Kendrell are probably going to be the ones that speak up the most. That's why so many things are up in the air. I'm not comfortable with it. But this group of seniors, they're winners. They like to win as much as I do" By Richard Dumas The Mary Persons girls basketball team remains in rebuilding mode in 2018- 19 after the loss of several key contributors. Not only did the Lady Dogs lose a pair of gradu- ated starters in shooting guard Kver Shannon and power forward Abby Hightower from last year's 3-24 squad, but MP suf- fered a pair of unexpected losses as well. Senior point guard Ateria McDowell, a two-year starter and the team's top returning scorer, transferred to Jackson in the off-season while another senior, Shenaya Brezial, suffered a season- ending knee injury on the second possession of the season last month. Brezial was expected to start and pla) hea'C'y minutes for the' Lady Dogs. Second year MP girls head coach Lamon McEI- haney said MP entered the season feeling like it could improve to as much as 10 wins, but he said that goal will be much tougher to achieve without Brezial in the lineup. McElhaney said of Brezial's injury: "That put a damper on everything be- cause we had high hopes of being competitive, winning more than three games. We set a goal of trying to win 10. Winning 10 would have been realistic, but we would have had to play really good basketball every night" Without Brezial, MP is offto a frustrating 0-9 start, and McElhaney said MP'S struggles likely won't end until the Lady Dogs can start developing more talent at a younger age. McElhaney said basketball, more than other sports, requires a complete skill-set that is not easy to teach at the high school level. "I still think it's going to take more time, but it's gotta start before they get to the seventh grade" McElhaney said. 'Nnd that's the biggest problem here in Monroe County. Girls like basketball, they don't love it. And a lot of them don't start playing until seventh grade and they're four or five years behind skill-wise. And that's our biggest problem now at the high school. It's not athleti- cism because the girls play other sports. They have basic coordination, but it's going to come down to the skill set that's involved in basketball. I tell them all the time, 'In soccer, you can be very, very fast and have very little skill and lead the state in scoring just because you can outrun people and you don't need but one or two touches. In softball, you might not be anything but a DH. You can just hit the ball really good and not have to play the field. Or you might be a pinch run- ner. We can find something for you to do. In track, you can be really strong and throw the shot put. But in basketball there's no place to hide because you've got to do offense, defense and special teams to put it See LADY DOGS Page 7C MONROE COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL 2018- 19 BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM: Pictured from left to right on the front row: An- dre Williams, Duke Watson, Jordan McCord, Shy Callo- way, Kham Calloway, Seth Davis, OJ Evans, Amauri Crowder and Ty Dumas. Pictured from left to right on the back row: JeSean Wil- son, Conner Scott, Javeon Tatum, Jordan Ogletree, Maury Lowe, Quay Wilson, Tristain Johnson, Anthony Clements and Demarkus Head. Not pictured: coach Michael Smallwood. MONROE COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL 2018- 19 GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM: Pictured from left to right on the front row: Anna Grace Mullis, Miah Barkley, Abbey Stem- bridge, Jadin Harrison, Kate McAteer, Jaliyah Johnson, Samiya Morris and Tashana Threatt. Pictured from left to right on the back row: Anaja Lucear, Oneisha Walker, Caroline Buffington, Qua'Nesha Brown, Jamiya Zellner, Hajar Toles, Faith Jones, Niah Bigham, Zora Bigham and coach Hannah Grossman. !