July 10, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The summer is the time to reload.
That''s why Jeff Smith enjoys spending so many of his hours in the "offseason" helping the basketball players in West Lowndes stay sharp.
Smith has been working as an Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach in the area for 12 years. This year, he is coaching a 17-and-under boys basketball team, one of four AAU age-group teams in West Lowndes, and helping those players (and others from local schools) prepare for what could be an even better 2009-10 season.
Last season, the West Lowndes High School boys basketball team went 22-8, was the South Half runner-up, and lost to Calhoun City at the Class A state tournament in Jackson.
The Panthers have lost five players from that team, but Smith hopes the work he, Quintessa Wilson, and Tony Sherrard are doing as coaches will help the boys and girls basketball teams build a foundation for success for years to come.
"We have done very well this summer," Smith said. "The (17-and-under team) went through a transition period for a couple of weeks as they struggled to find an identity. They are a young group, but they are very talented. We went through the growing pains and we have turned it all around. We have worked real hard this summer and played at a high level against some bigger schools. The kids have grown up."
West Lowndes has AAU boys and girls teams for players 14 and under and 17 and under. Smith said he hopes to organize more teams for younger players. He said the key is to build an organized feeder program that remains consistent that will support the high school basketball programs.
So far, he and his coaches are on the right track. The teams have participated in the Cobra Tournament in Columbus and the Summer Splash Tournament in Memphis. The boys team took third at each event, while the girls won the tournament in Memphis and finished second at the event in Columbus.
This weekend, the team will represent the area at the Gulf Coast Ballers Summer Shootout Tournament in Gulfport.
The 17-and-under team also has participated in the summer basketball league at Columbus High.
Rising sophomore Korey Wilson, 15, who didn''t play basketball at West Lowndes High last season, said he and his peers are using the summer to improve their skills and to set the stage for a run at the state title in 2009-10.
"We are getting better and better each practice," said Wilson, a 6-foot-2 center who also plays football at the school. "I have learned how to pass the ball and shoot better."
Wilson has long arms and said he enjoys playing defense and blocking shots. He said he scores most of his points inside and on the fastbreak. He hopes the added experience this summer will help him expand his game and help the team come together.
"Everybody has learned one person doesn''t make the team and that there is no ''I'' in team," Wilson said. "Everyone works together now."
Tyquan Lucious, who played a key role in the success of the boys basketball and baseball teams, said everyone has improved their fundamentals. He said he has improved his ability to take the ball to the basket. Already a strong outside shooter from beyond 3-point range, Lucious also said he has gotten stronger and learned how to play with his new teammates. He said he is looking forward to the upcoming high school season.
"Our attitude is better," Lucious said. "I think it will carry over a lot to the high school season."
"I will be very disappointed if this team isn''t in Jackson (next year at the state tournament)," Smith said. ''They have played all summer, worked hard, and gotten over the learning curve. They are young, hungry, and they want to establish themselves. This is their opportunity to do that."
Girls team members are: Kelcie Lanier, Joslyn Gillespie, Krystal Williams, Chellsey Lowery, Kelly Petty, Corey Nevills, Kia Edmond, Tyeshia Knott, Daysha Humphrey, and Krystal Williams.
Boys team members are: Korey Wilson, Deaundre Lewis, Danieagle Rice, Denzel Weatherspoon, Gerald Sanders, Tommie and De''aviren Flowers, Shuntel James, Clemmie Hairston, Javarious Ellis, Brandon Clark, Roderick Johnson, Dominique Kelly, Bryant Smith, Jeremy and Jermaine Thomas, Daniel Davis, Antonio Wilson, Daniel Vance, Kevin Hargrove, Henry Mayfield, Jalen Douglas, Tyquan Lucious, and Darius Farmer.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.