Tigers hope experience overcomes late start
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Late arrival of his entire team is nothing new to T.R. Miller Tigers basketball coach Rob Atkinson.
Then again just because Atkinson is used to having only a partial team during the early days of the season due to participation in football playoffs by some of his players does not make the situation any easier.
"It was made worse this year because of the hurricane. The hurricane backed up the football season a week so we got our players who are involved in football a week later," Atkinson said. "It's going to take time for those players to make the transition from football to basketball. I'd say it will probably be January by the time they get in true basketball shape."
While the Tigers were without the services of projected starters Damien Jackson, Gerald Banton, Laine Lucas and Tye Walker during the early days of practice and even the season opener against Escambia County, Atkinson said the situation has been not all bad.
"One of our biggest questions after our summer camp was our depth. We've gotten a lot of work for our other players so far. That plus their progress makes me feel a lot better about our depth than I did a few months ago," Atkinson said.
T.R. Miller is coming off a 16-12 season a year ago. The Tigers started last season 7-9 before they went on a 9-3 stretch that included the Class 3A Area 1 championship.
"We really started to play as a team the second half of last season. We brought up Gerald Banton and he helped us out so much on the defensive end. The style we played produced a lot of close games. We started winning those close games the second half of the season that we were losing early on. Hopefully the confidence we built the second half of last year carries over to this season," Atkinson said.
T.R. Miller lost both its top perimeter threat and leading scorer in Greg Bogan, who averaged about 16 points a game.
"Greg hit a lot of big shots for us, but I think we've got three pretty capable shooters from the perimeter. Damien Jackson is a real threat from outside. George Arauz is a pretty good outside shooter and Gerald Banton has improved his outside shooting quite a bit," Atkinson said.
Damien Jackson, a 5-11 senior, is slated to handle the point guard role. Wade Jackson, a 5-10 sophomore, will back him up.
"Damien handles the ball well. He shoots the ball well from the perimeter and also has great leaping skills," Atkinson said. "Wade sees the floor extremely well. He is a lefty so that gives the defense a little bit different look. He can also hit from outside."
Gerald Banton, a 6-1 senior, and George Arauz, a 5-7 senior, are expected to fill the other guard slot.
"Gerald was primarily a defensive specialist for us last year, but this year we're expecting him to help out a lot more on the offensive side. He goes to the basket real well, penetrates and can also dish out the assists," Atkinson said. "George is a role player. He is a pretty good shooter and his defense isn't bad. He does what we ask him to do."
With 6-1 being as big as T.R. Miller goes, the Tigers will not scare anyone with their size. With that in mind, the Tigers' size, or lack of size, makes their interior players interchangeable parts.
Chris Byrd, a 5-10 junior, is the lone projected starter Atkinson has had in camp since the start of practice. Byrd will probably be a small forward.
"Chris had a great start to the season when he scored 20 points against Escambia County. He has really improved. Chris is a good passer, but sometimes he is a little too unselfish. There were times against Escambia County where we had to pretty much order him to take some shots and he still had 20," Atkinson said.
Laine Lucas, a 5-11 junior, and Tye Walker, a 6-0 senior, are expected to fill out T.R. Miller's starting inside game.
"Laine got quite a few starts for us last season. He is a gritty, hard-nosed player who would run through a wall if you told him to do it. He is hustler and a strong rebounder. I'm expecting him to pick things up on the offensive end some this year," Atkinson said. "Tye also started quite a bit last year. Tye handles the ball pretty well for his size and his shooting is a lot better this year. Tye also does a good job of penetrating."
Brandon Samuel, a 6-0 sophomore, Javaris Drakeford, a 6-1 junior, and Kelly Stallworth, a 6-1 sophomore, may also get some inside work.
"Brandon still needs some work, but he has improved a lot and is shooting the ball better. Javaris is probably our lone true post player. He is a good athlete and we're trying to develop those skills into basketball skills. Right now Kelly needs to play so he'll probably see a lot of junior varsity time, but he could get some time at the four or five spot," Atkinson said.
The Tigers could also get some service from A.J. Daugherty, a 5-10 senior, Nick Puryear, a 5-8 junior, and Briddell Jones, a 5-11 junior.
"A.J. and Nick are backup point guards. Briddell is a good defensive player who will play at either the two or the three spot.
T.R. Miller Tigers
Nov. 30 Escambia County Away Lost 77-60
Dec. 9 Escambia County Tournament (Flomaton Won 58-41)
Dec. 10 Escambia County Tournament (W.S. Neal Won 54-22)
Dec. 11 Escambia County Tournament (Escambia County)
Dec. 14 Jay Home 6 p.m.
Dec. 17 Monroe County Away 5 p.m.
Dec. 18 Northview Away 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 20 Andalusia Home 4 p.m.
Dec. 27-29 T.R. Miller Tournament
Jan. 4 Clarke County Home 5 p.m.
Jan. 7 Flomaton Away 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 W.S. Neal Away 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 14 Clarke County Away 5 p.m.
Jan. 18 Straughn Home 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 21 W.S. Neal Home 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 Jay Away 6 p.m.
Jan. 25 Escambia County Home 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 Straughn Away 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 29 Greenville Away 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 Flomaton Home 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 4 Monroe County Home 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 5 Northview Home 4:30 p.m.