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By: Corey Stott
MEMPHIS, Mo.- When asked how this year’s Scotland County Tiger varsity basketball team would approach the game, head coach Jeremy Austin grinned and said, “On the cusp of being out of control, but NOT out of control. That’s the catch.” He laughed as he explained, “I don’t know exactly where that line is, but we definitely crossed it a lot of times last season.”
The 2020-21 edition of the Tiger basketball squad wants to play fast and make conditioning a factor in the game. “My favorite thing as a coach is to look over at the other team and see how they’re handling that fourth quarter when we’re still going strong and they’re starting to fade,” Austin said. “That’s usually when we can pick up a little streak and that sets us up to be pretty successful.”
The Tigers run quite a bit. Practices are high intensity. Coach Austin thinks that sets them up to be able to play well late in the game. Defensively they expect to play a lot of man to man with some zone mixed in. “We’ve got to keep pressure on the ball. Our man to man is quite a bit better than it was last year. Early season last year was not great but our man to man did get better as the season went on. That’s probably a testament to essentially zero varsity experience for the year before.”
Austin expects the Tigers to be pretty strong on the boards. He also expects transition points to be a heavy emphasis offensively. “We have an offense, and we practice it a great deal. We understand that the game of basketball requires us to execute in our half court sets. But the full court points are free ones. So if they’re gonna give us some free baskets just because we’re going to out-hustle and out-rebound them, then we’re going to take all of those that they’re willing to give us.”
Practices have given Austin confidence that the Tigers will do a better job of transition basketball. “I think it’s something we’re doing a great job of. The head goes up right away, you don’t see people just take off dribbling as soon as they touch it. We kick it and get it down the court pretty well. If that trend continues, we should be able to see a good amount of our offense coming that way, off of transition.”
When asked what kind of depth his team has, Austin replied, “I don’t know the answer yet. I’m going to have to see more live game action. In practice it’s tough to tell.” He does, however, believe that he’ll have more depth than last season because a lot of guys that didn’t get lots of minutes last year have worked hard and gotten much better. He emphasized that he will be leaning heavily on seniors Carson Harrison and Hunter Carter. “Those two are seniors that we expect to really step up and lead us,” Austin said.
A year’s worth of growth and experience leads Austin to believe that the guard play will be much improved from last season. Owen Triplett and Corbyn Spurgeon will handle the primary guard duties. “That’s going to help us offensively to have two guys who can flip flop back and forth on who handles the ball. Whoever’s hitting the shots, we’re going to put him at the two guard and then rotate from there.”
Austin noted that one of the most improved Tigers so far has been Kabe Hamlin. “Kabe has put in a ton of work over the summer. That’s going to really pay off for him. He’s improved his shot and his footwork’s pretty good. I expect to see him really step up this season,” Austin said.
Xavier Lucas is a wildcard for the Tigers. He suffered a serious injury during football season and is rehabbing it in hopes of making it back for a portion of his junior season of basketball. “I’m optimistic that we’ll see him back before this season is over. That would make a huge difference for us and him. He needs this year. It’s his junior year and it’d be great if he could get some quality minutes and set himself up for a terrific senior season,” Austin observed.
Other players that Coach Austin mentioned included Trayton Buckallew and Jared Cerroni. “They are both guys that played off and on last year on the varsity level and did not see consistent minutes. That came down to their youth and inconsistency. Those two have gotten a bunch better. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into the process,” Austin said. “They’re going to have to be guys that are in the rotation consistently and step up and get things done.”
Austin also expects his freshmen to contribute, especially Hunter Holt. “He’s a very bright kid. He knows what to do, where to do it, and when,” he said. “Sophomore Lucas Durflinger is another player that saw limited minutes last season but I think is gonna step up and have a good year for us.”
When asked for his thoughts about the upcoming schedule, Austin used one word. “Dynamic!” With all the schools in various stages of attendance and practicing, he said he just simply hopes that they get a chance to play a lot of games and get better and be set up for a second half of the season to win some more games and have a chance to win every game. “Last year we played hard all the time, but there were some games where we just simply weren’t in the game. We were outmatched by a lot. My expectation this year is to be in every game with a chance to win.”
Austin believes that Salisbury will again be the team to beat in the Lewis and Clark Conference. “They’ll be tough,” he said. “They’d be pretty high on the list of pretty strong favorites.”
“I think the amount of effort that these boys have put in from last year to now under an incredibly difficult situation has been very impressive,” Coach Austin said. “I’m very proud of what all they have done. I think if we get the opportunity to get out there on the court that the community will feel the same way.”