High School Basketball Previews 2020-2021
MADISON- High school basketball 2020-2021. The newest season of round ball is underway in what could be described as the most unusual season in history in the wake of the protocol guidelines set forth due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With followed protocol, the AHSAA has it sights set on completing the season giving the thousands of student-athletes across Alabama a chance to compete for a coveted state championship. In the immediate Madison area, four boy’s programs are feverishly going through its schedules, all of which have a goal of winning.
The Patriots lost a bevy of firepower off last year’s 25-8 team, which was seeded third in Area 8 of Class 7-A. Despite losing 80-percent of the offense, this year’s Pats will rely on competing collectively as a team.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who like each other and want to be coached and will bring a competitive style to the floor,” said Luther Tiggs in his fifth season as head coach. “This squad will fight. They are fearless and each night will have a chance to compete.”
Bob Jones has one starter returning this season with Jalen Jackson (G, 6-2, Sr.) who has moved from the interior of the floor to the outside perimeter. He’s one of five seniors suiting up in the Patriots colors of red, white and blue. Christian Rice (G, 6-3, Jr.) had considerable playing minutes as a sophomore last year. He has plenty of all-around talents.
Tyler Long (F, 6-4, Jr.) is new to the team as a transfer, Sean Paul (G, 5-10, So.), according to Tiggs, will be one of the better players when his high school years are complete, Nathan Stewart (G, 5-7, Sr.) should start at point guard, Aidan Menne (C, 6-4, So.) is a good pickup from his transfer from Westminster Christian and KeyShawn Reynolds-Feagins (G, 5-11, Sr.) is coming off his senior play as safety on the Bob Jones football team. Those five should play a big part in the makeup of the new squad.
“Besides our one returning starter, we’re young and only have a few with varsity experience, but other teams in our area (Austin, Florence, James Clemens) all have experienced players,” said Tiggs. “Actually we don’t know much about our team since we’ve had no competition this summer due to COVID-19. It’s a chess game, very puzzling.”
Unlike their arch-rival Bob Jones, the Sparkman Senators have four starters returning from last year’s team. Others on the Sparkman team have varsity experience and head coach Jamie Coggins is busy trying to develop more players to fill the holes on the 2020-2021 squad.
“When you play varsity level for the first time it’s different, from the skill level to the speed as we work hard to develop those areas,” said Coggins.
Gone from last year’s team was one of the top recruited players in North Alabama in Tyrese Elliott, who averaged 15 points on the team and led the Senators to an Area 7 championship and to a Regional Finals runner-up spot. Elliott moved to Georgia, so Coggins is busy trying to fill the hole left on the roster and starting five.
“We have three that could be that fifth starter and we could mix and match these players, depending on our opponent,” said ninth year Sparkman head coach Coggins.
The three named to possibly be that fifth starter are:
Terrance Caselberry (G, 6-1, 170, Jr.)- athletic, rebounds and slasher on offense.
Karmelo Montgomery (SF, 6-5, 185, So.)- has upside potential being very skilled. Although young, he has high IQ of the game.
Cameron Jones (PG, 6-1, 150, So.)- a good point guard and he’s working hard to be very consistent.
“We want to play and push downhill and try and put our players in position to score points,” added Coggins.
With a 22-12 record last season, the four starting players partly responsible for that success and returning this year include Calen Lightford (PG, 5-11, 150, Jr.) with 12 points per game and has been heavily recruited from schools such as USA, Troy, Belmont, UNA, Army and MTSU, just to name a few; Trevor Ragland (F, 6-4, 175, Sr.) who was second on the team in scoring putting up 14 points per outing and has an offer from Alabama State, but is also looking at Jacksonville State and others; Nick Sawyer (G, 6-0, 170, Sr.) put up seven points per outing; Xavier Williams (F, 6-0, 180, Sr.) who added good production with eight points per game.
Sparkman looks to use their usual defensive pressure, which includes all over the playing court if necessary and with a man-to-man style that can cause havoc to opposing teams.
Coggins described what we hopes to see out of his team this season when he said, “Play hard and compete, flying around on defense while playing with lots of energy and having great team chemistry.”
Former Auburn great Frankie Sullivan enters his second season as head coach of the James Clemens Jets with tons of experience on his roster including four starters and seven seniors off last year’s team that posted a record of 9-16, but a squad that was much better than the wins and losses.
“This senior group will change James Clemens basketball,” said Sullivan. “Our motto this year is ‘Take Off’ as for years others would say James Clemens will be good one day and have potential. This year, this squad will be good.”
The four returning starters are: Brody Davis (C, 6-10, Sr.), nicknamed “Big Country,” will have more explosiveness on the floor as he has worked numerous hours on his footwork. No other team in the immediate area possess a big man like Davis who has received attention from numerous colleges; Kaleb Green (F, 6-0, Sr.) is playing with authority after suffering what Sullivan said was a rough year on the court a season ago; Trevon Sims (G, 6-4, Sr.) is a sure-fire all-around player for the Jets as his defensive skills make things happen for the Jets and has great potential on offense; Jordan Frazier (G, 6-4, Jr.) is the only underclassmen on what Sullivan feels is his starting five. He has had an offer from the Georgia Bulldogs and is being watched by many colleges and is expected to be a top scoring threat and opponents will key on his whereabouts on the court.
“Our fifth starter will be Nicholas Jennings (G, 6-4, Sr.) who is Mr. Everything for our team,” said Sullivan. “He tore an ACL last year and was out all season. I, too, tore an ACL when I was in college and I have stressed to Nick he can come back even better than before.”
The Jets will face tough competition in Class 7-A Area 8 from Austin, Bob Jones and Florence. Sullivan expects Austin to be the team to beat in the Area, but his Jets will give it their best shot with an up-tempo effort that was not up to par last season. This squad has learned to close games, something that did not occur often enough last year. Overall, the team has good chemistry and will possess two different defensive looks. “We’ll have a defense that will get in your face and a second squad that will be aggressive, but more laid back,” added Sullivan.
The 30-year old Sullivan said his style of coaching will be more subdued than last year. He added, “I asked the players for some feedback on how to be a better coach and they told me I yelled too much so you will see a more calmed down version this season.”
The Madison Academy Mustangs move up in classifications to 6-A this season and will tangle with Area 16 foes Athens, Columbia and Hazel Green, which are much larger schools. The Mustangs fell in the Class 5-A sub-regional last season to Lawrence County 57-49 and will carry two starters from last season’s squad to the floor in 20-21.
Justin Bradley (G, 6-3, Sr.) and Drew Blackston (G, 5-11, Jr.) both have that honor as returning starters and should anchor what head coach Andy Blackston feels will be a team that can shoot and score. Bradley, who’s had some looks from college recruiters, can rebound and shoot some open three’s and can be very electrifying on the court. Blackston on the other hand, is not only the coach’s son, but will be the team-leading point guard. He has energy, great feel for the game and runs the team from the floor.
Other expected starters are Andrew Boothe (G, 6-1, Sr.) a knockdown shooter who plays hard, Grady Byrnes (G, 6-1, Jr.) who can shoot and is regarded as ‘”sneaky” good on defense, and Landon Jacobs (C, 6-5, Jr.) who is expected to score inside and make rebounds aplenty as he’s the team’s most improved player and has built up his muscle mass and will be tough on the inside.
“Besides a good shooting team, we must dig down on our defensive rebounding and become complete players and a complete team, said Blackston, who is in his 15th season as head coach of the Mustangs. “We’re in Class 6-A now and we must be good on both ends of the court.”
All five starters should be receiving lots of attention from college recruiters and will have some on-floor competition from within the team as three players on the roster will make their way to basketball once the Madison Academy football team completes its playoff run. Those include Jailen Holmes (G, 5-10, Jr.) who played varsity last year as a sophomore and will get some playing time at point guard, Holden Blake (F, 6-1, Jr.) who is tough, smart, good passer and will be a perfect backup for the number five spot and Will Stokes (G, 5-9, Jr.) who Blackston called a fierce competitor and can drive and finish any play.
Blackston has led the Mustangs to six state championships with the last one coming in 2016 when the school was listed as a Class 3-A school, but he remains steadfast as the program’s leader and looks to remain in his current position for the immediate future. Five years ago he took on some administration roles at the private school and still teaches scripture. “My two favorite things are studying and explaining scripture and coaching,” he added. “Here at MA, I’ve found my niche as coaching is part of ministry.”