Blue Eagles look to change fortunes under new coach
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
History is just that, history.
First-year W.S. Neal Blue Eagles basketball coach Tom Lawler is aware of his team's 6-21 record it compiled last season. He also knows there is nothing he can do to change it.
"I'm not sure what the problem or problems were last year since I wasn't here," Lawler said. "I've tried to bring my own ideas into the program. I want to put the ball in the hands of our athletes."
The success of the W.S. Neal football team has given Lawler a lot less time to get his system in place. Besides that, four games have already been wiped off the schedule.
"We just got the football players in last week. Monday was only our fifth full squad practice so we're a little behind," Lawler said. "We're now scheduled to open the season Friday (at home) against Clarke County. By comparison they've been having full squad practices for four weeks. That is a big difference."
Lawler's reconstruction project will not include Keith Woods, Nick Benjamin and J.J. Pitts, who were three of W.S. Neal's top scorers from last season.
"We may not have all the top athletes in the school out for basketball, but I think we have some good athletes. I also think we have shown some good attitudes at this point," Lawler said.
At least in the early going, Lawler plans to build his backcourt around 5-6 junior Chris Powell and 5-11 senior Marcus Folmar.
"We're probably looking at Chris for the point. I think he'll be able to handle the defensive pressure and he won't turn the ball over," Lawler said. "Marcus hasn't gotten into basketball shape yet after coming over from football, but he is a good athlete. He may be our best athlete. Marcus is very quick to the basket and he is a good leader. He'll probably play the two spot (shooting guard)."
Lawler also said 6-0 senior Matt Hulley, 5-7 junior Drew Hester, 5-9 senior Brett Chancery and 5-10 senior Chason Godbolt could also see some time in the backcourt.
"Matt has some versatility. He can play a shooting guard or a small forward position for us. Drew has some good outside range. He'll probably play a shooting guard or a small forward spot. He might even play the point on some occasions. Chason could see some time in that role as well," Lawler said. "Right now we're looking at Brett to back us up at the point."
W.S. Neal will build its inside game around 6-3 senior Cory Freeman and 6-3 senior Jeremy Burch at the forward spots.
"They're both making the transition from football. We're looking at Jeremy to play the wing at small forward. He has shown signs of being a capable outside shooter. Cory is a hustler and he is a strong player. He'll probably play the power forward spot," Lawler said.
W.S. Neal will be quite young at the center spot with 6-4 freshman Jared Cooper.
"Jared weighs about 260 pounds so he won't get pushed around inside. Even though he is just a freshman, I don't think he will get intimidated by the more experienced players," Lawler said.
Ron Dexter, a 6-1 junior, will give the Blue Eagles some inside depth.
"Ron is a good defenisve player and he has some some range with his outside shooting. He'll probably play some at power forward or he might slide into the center spot," Lawler said.
The W.S. Neal coach said it is important for his team to get off to a good start for a couple of reasons.
"With the schedule changes, we now have our first six games at home. We need to get some wins during that time before we head out on the road," Lawler said. "While I like our attitude at this point, the old attitude of 'Here we go again' could set back in if we get off to a bad start."
W.S. Neal Blue Eagles Basketball Schedule
Dec. 5 Clarke County Home
Dec. 8 Northview (Fla.) Home
Dec. 11-13 Escambia County Tournament Home
Dec. 15 J.U. Blacksher Home
Dec. 16 Jay (Fla.) Away
Dec. 30-Jan. 3 T.R. Miller Holiday Tournament
Jan. 9 Clarke County Away
Jan. 13 T.R. Miller Away
Jan. 16 Escambia County Away
Jan. 17 Hillcrest Home
Jan. 20 T.R. Miller Home
Jan. 22 J.U. Blacksher Away
Jan. 23 McKenzie Home
Jan. 27 Flomaton Home
Jan. 30 Northview (Fla.)
Jan. 31 Hillcrest Away
Feb. 3 Pleasant Home Home