Basketball season begins for Rams, Cougars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

This week’s basketball preview will focus on the two teams whose seasons get underway later this week and early next week, the Atmore Christian School Rams and the Escambia Academy Cougars.

Atmore Christian School kicked off local basketball action in the ACS Challenge Friday and will continue with games today at 11a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The team will play three games, while concurrently hosting the tournament.

The team is under the direction of head coach Tim Battles.

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The Rams lost two key senior players from last year’s team in Casey Freeman and Thomas Moore. Freeman was a 2011-12 All-Conference Second Team selection for the western division of the Panhandle Christian Conference.

A lack of experience is one of the team’s major challenges this season.

“Not a single player has significant varsity experience,” Battles said. “They’re just young.”

Indeed, the team’s starting five will include three freshmen, a sophomore, and a senior with no previous basketball experience. The team’s

starting five includes: Malik Jones, Ethan Heller, Christian Scott, William Swartzendruber and Myles Maher.

Battles said despite the team’s experience, they have multiple strengths including their willingness to work hard.

“I think they’re biggest strength right now is they’re working hard and they’re getting it and they listen,” Battles said. “To maintain a focus for a two-hour practice and really no payday—the payday being games—that’s hard work and they’ve been doing pretty well. Overall, they’re buying into what I’m telling them.”

Another strength the team has is size and defense.

“We’re not going to be a scoring juggernaut, but we do have length,” Battles said.

Because of the team’s schedule, they will learn in a hurry how they stack up against the competition.

“We’ll play seven games from Friday to Friday, so we’ll find out a lot about ourselves in the next week,” Battles said.

While the bulk of the season involves conference opponents, Battles scheduled games against tougher competition and hopes such games will help the team become better. Not only is the team scheduled to play Escambia Academy, but must also play Sparta Academy.

“We know both of those are going to be really, really tough games,” Battles said. “But I think those games will only help us get better.”

The Escambia Academy Cougars will start their season at Atmore Christian School Tuesday.

The team is under the direction of head coach Kevin Woods. Woods expects his team to do well this year.

“I think we’re going to have a good season,” he said. “Any time we step out, we expect to win. Our first goal is to win our area because that will get us into the playoffs. Obviously we want to win the game against ACS.”

Like the Rams, the Cougars lost two key seniors from last year’s team in Darren McGhee and Jalen Henry. McGhee and Henry were 2011-12 AISA All-Star selections. The team finished as semifinalists in the AISA Elite Eight for the AA classification. In the first round, the team beat Restoration by a score of 46-40. In the semifinals, they lost to Evangel Christian 83-53. Evangel Christian went on to win the AISA state championship for the AA classification.

Key players for the Cougars this season will be Jordan Sasser, Garrett Kirk, Brett Helton and Tehron Stallworth.

Sasser is expected to be the team’s best true point guard, having been a starter on the team for two years and with three total years of playing experience.

Center Garrett Kirk could create matchup problems for opposing teams, and has proven himself as a serious inside scoring threat.

The team’s best outside scoring threat is expected to be shooting guard Brett Helton. This will be his first season as a starter, although he brings previous playing experience with the team.

This will be senior Tehron Stallworth’s first season of playing basketball at Escambia Academy, but he has shown an important intangible: natural leadership. Another senior, Blake Quimby, is expected to be important for his leadership qualities as well.

Eight of the team’s players have previous playing experience, which is one of the team’s strengths. Another strength pointed out by Woods is their ability to rebound.

Woods hopes to improve in one area, something which usually comes with game experience.

“I think we get in too big of a hurry and turn the ball over,” Woods said of the three practices the team has held. “Of course, that comes with playing a little bit.”

The Cougars and the Rams will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Atmore Christian School.