Blue Devils hit hard wood
By By Matthew Nascone
After a bitter loss to the rival T.R. Miller Tigers in the AHSAA Sub-Regionals last year the Escambia County Blue Devils season was over, but first-year head coach Anthony Hayes has new goals for the 2007-08 Devils.
"We want to capture the County Tournament in December," Hayes said. "From there we go into area play in January and we want to win the area. From there we want to win the regional and from there we want the main prize of a state title."
The road to the state championship will require two ingredients.
"Hard work and defense," Hayes said. "That is what we stress here. Every day the guys walk through the gym for practice we start with defense and we end with defense. Everyone might not be scoring a lot every night, but they will all be playing defense every night."
Hayes said losing the team's top scoring threat, Frank Taylor, from last year's team will hurt, but it will also provide opportunity.
"I had a chance to meet and play with Frank over the summer and he is a great player, but we can make those points up as a team this year," Hayes said. "With the loss of Frank, that gives someone else an opportunity to step up. That is the message I have been sending them all year."
This year's Devils are full of seniors, with 12 on the team. Those seniors include, Katral James, James Lykes, Rodney Richardson, DeAngelo Hardy, Josh Adams, Josh McCants, Jarrod Jefferson, David Quarker, Blake Bayne, Lee Watson, Deon Frye and Derrick Riley.
"We are senior heavy this year and that is just the way it fell," Hayes said. "I am expecting to win with that much leadership because those guys have played the most basketball and this is it for them. We win or that's it for them and I am trying to use that approach with them this year."
Many of the players have had less than one week to get ready for the season opener. Those players were busy hosting the first football playoff game in 14 years. The full team has been working together since yesterday and they travel to Bay Minette for a clash with Class 6A Baldwin County High School Saturday. But Hayes is not worried.
"I think these guys are doing well and they have been waiting for the other guys to come back, knowing they will be pushed," he said. "But they have been going hard every day and they are adjusting to the new system we have put in place."
Hayes is letting the team still run the ball, but he has a twist on how they run it.
"We will run with a purpose," Hayes said. "We will run hard, fast and quick, but everything we do has a goal behind it."
The development of a sophomore guard will be key to the success of the Blue Devils this season, according to Hayes.
"I think Kingston Craft will have to go ahead and become a man for us," he said. "He is a great ball player who played as a freshman last year and did some good things. I think he could be the guy for us if he can mature early on. Then again we also have Katral James who is coming off the football field (and he played last year on the basketball team). He is just a winner. With those two guys and with the senior leadership, we will be OK."
Hayes said the response to him as the new coach has been great, but he wants everyone to know one thing about this year's team.
"I just hope the fans come out and support us," he said. "Everything will be new, but at the same time it is Escambia High basketball and we are going to keep that same brand and winning tradition going here."
The Blue Devils open the season Saturday in Bay Minette at 6 p.m. following the Lady Blue Devils game.