ECHS relying on experience

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A run to the regional tournament last winter gave the Escambia County Blue Devils perspective on how successful they could be with the right amount of practice and teamwork.

With the 2011 season beginning Friday, the Blue Devils are hoping to begin another long journey to the playoffs, one that they hope leads past the regional tournament.

With a mix of experienced returners and new faces, Escambia County will need to gel in order to win their area let alone make it to the playoffs.

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The experienced group of players are the reason this season’s team is confident they will make a repeat trip to Mobile, Blue Devils head basketball coach Anthony Hayes said.

Escambia County Blue Devil Desmond Williams dunks during practice Monday at the gymnasium at Escambia County HIgh School on Monday night.

“It’s was huge for our guys,” he said. “I asked around and the program hadn’t been there in a long time. I think our guys coming back learned a lot from that experience. I think it made them nervous at first, but now they expect to be there. They know the environment, so I think being there last year will pay dividends this season.”

As the veteran players begin working with the rookies, each player will have a role in the success of the Blue Devils.

Using the abilities of each player is the focus of Hayes as he brings his team together, he said.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “We feel that we can use every player on our roster. Our team will really lean on the returning players such as Dalvin Craft, Fred Knight, Tony McAroy and Pete Myers. They have been here and know what to do, but our new guys will be ready to come in and play as well. We can’t take any games off. It’ll be a total team effort.”

The season begins Friday with a trip to Monroe County followed by a trip to Baldwin County on Saturday.

With two road games followed by a tournament in Greenville, the young Blue Devils will have to gain experience quickly in order to help their team, Hayes said.

“Our competition will start on Friday,” he said. “We go on the road to Monroeville and then we are on the road at Bay Minette the next day. Then we go on the road to the Greenville tournament Monday. Our guys will grow up fast with that level of competition.”

As the defending area champions, the Blue Devils will have a target on their back as they prepare to defend their title against three hungry teams.

The area will be competitive with B.C. Rain, UMS-Wright and Saraland all bring different things to the table, Hayes said.

“As far as our area goes, B.C. Rain is always athletic and UMS-Wright will be a disciplined ball club,” he said. “Saraland has everyone coming back, so they are going to be a lot better this year. It’s not going to be easy, but we don’t want it to be easy.”

Experiencing the atmosphere of the regional tournament gives the Blue Devils a lot to work with as they prepare for the stretch of the season.

The team will use that trip to build on what they could accomplish and not what they failed to accomplish, Hayes said.

“We are going to reflect back because we know we can get there,” he said. “We won’t dwell on it, but try to exceed what we did last season.”

With high expecations set out in front of his team, the only goal that Hayes has set at this point is for the Blue Devils to become a team.

Bringing together his roster will really be the measure of success, he said.

“Our main goal is having these 15 guys come together as one team,” he said. “Any positive results won’t be a surprise because they are talented, but we need them to come together at the same time. If they can do that then we’ll have success.”

The early stages of becoming a team have worked so far with the players getting along and working together.

Academically and athletically, the Blue Devils are doing what they can to make sure every thing goes their way, Hayes said.

“Things have been fun,” he said. “Our guys are always together. They are doing it on the court and in the classroom, so they are really coming together as a team.”

The Blue Devils travel to Monroeville for their first game of the season on Friday night. Games begin at 5 p.m.