July 28, 2010 9:55:00 AM
The West Lowndes Amateur Athletic Union basketball program hopes it can finish the season as quickly as it started it.
Coming off a 15-0 start, the West Lowndes'' 17-and-under boys basketball team will join its other boys and girls age group teams at The King of Kings Summer Closeout, which begins this weekend in Memphis, Tenn.
West Lowndes is expected to begin play in the event Saturday. The team, which features many of the same players who are in the West Lowndes High School basketball program, won its first 15 games in the spring and summer circuit, including a tournament victory in Columbus and an undefeated run through the Starkville Recreation League. The team will take an 18-2 mark to Memphis.
"They have worked hard," said Jeff Smith, who coaches the 17-and-under boys team. "I challenged them at the beginning of the summer with our practices, and we talked about what we are trying to do and what is at stake. For some of these kids it is their last ride. They have had some success on some other teams, and it is opportunity for them to prove to everyone who felt like the program has lost a great deal. I have witnessed something totally different with this group. They play hard, they play defense, they get along, and they are able to accept those players who are capable of being the leaders on the team."
Seniors DeAndra Lewis and Tyquan Lucious are leaders West Lowndes will look to to end the summer in style. Both players played key roles on the high school team this past season. They hope the final tournament can help give the team confidence to know it is capable of getting to Jackson -- like the boys team did in 2009 -- and winning a state title.
"We have gotten a lot better because we are communicating more and are staying focused," Lewis said.
Said Lucious, "We have matured and come a long way. We started out sluggish but we were still winning. This summer has given us a lot of confidence."
Smith believes the work the players have put in in the spring and in the summer has helped raise the levels of the high school programs.
"We have three different age groups in the boys and two different age groups in the girls," Smith said. "That has allowed us to re-introduce the girls program. I feel real strongly that the program moving forward for the girls will be a strong program."
Coach Sherita Harrell will take a 17-and-under girls team to Memphis. Senior Zeprovea Wilson, sophomore Kiana Bridges, and freshman Kadejiah Smith are three of the top players on the team. Each player has spent at least two seasons in the AAU program and feels the girls are making strides to match the success of the boys teams.
"We''re playing against more experienced players, which is making us work harder to catch up to the other players," Bridges said.
Said Wilson, "We''re going to have a good squad this year. We''re going to be more focused and to know how to play together as a team."
Smith, who started the girls program 12 years ago and then moved to build the boys program, hopes an influx of younger girls into the program will increase interest and spur those teams to similar heights as the boys squads. He said the boys teams have been able to sustain success even though they have suffered graduation losses the past few seasons.
The 16-and-under and 13- and 14-and-under boys teams coached by Tony Sherrod and Kenny White Sr. are helping to lay the foundation for success at West Lowndes High. Even though both teams haven''t had as much success as the older team, Smith sees a bright future for the high school program.
"History has shown West Lowndes has had very good boys basketball, and I don''t think this year is going to be any different," Smith said. "I think down the road programs like this will allow us to re-seed the program and keep it going."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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