Austin High's tradition of success leaves no room for using inexperience as an excuse, Black Bear coach Demond Garth and players said this week as they prepare for the new season.
The Black Bears return only three players — post player Malique Elliott and guards Everette Mayes, Troy Harris — with "true" varsity experience.
Senior guard Erric Garth said the expectation is to surpass last year's team, which advanced to the Class 6A Northwest Regional final and finished with a 23-8 record.
"We want it all," Erric Garth said. "We're going for the home run."
Elliott said the Black Bears left the regional at Wallace State determined to improve on last year.
He said beating defending Class 6A champion Carver-Montgomery in summer team camp gives them optimism that they can reach their Final 48 goal.
"We could be better," Elliott said. "The young guys picked up a lot of experience at camp."
However, the Black Bears must replace four starters, including star Detrick Mostella, who transferred to a La Porte, Ind., prep school during the offseason.
Demond Garth said he will depend on two talented sophomores, center Josh Pearson and guard Camron Reedus.
The Black Bears have to use their athleticism and speed to offset a lack of height. Pearson, 6-foot-4, and Elliott, 6-3, will provide Austin's inside presence.
"We'll try to be up-tempo," Demond Garth said. "We'll have execute better at everything we do and work hard every day in practice."
Demond Garth said his team feels challenged by predictions that his Bears won't be as good.
"This is Austin High School, so the expectations are still there," Demond Garth said.
Austin is scheduled to open the season at home Nov. 19 against Hartselle.
Forgive Austin girls coach Bruce Hamilton for not knowing how to describe his team.
He just doesn't know yet.
What Hamilton does know is he has only two returning seniors and a talented group of freshmen and sophomores.
A third senior, Taylor Lott, joined the team during the offseason.
"It's just a strange situation," Hamilton said. "It's almost a totally new team, but we have a lot of potential and a tremendous amount of ability."
Point guard Takisha Jordan, a third-year starter, returns from a team that went 28-7 last season and broke a school record for wins in a season.
A two-time Daily second-team All-Area performer, Jordan played in the Alabama High School Athletic Association's North-South All-Star game this summer. She averaged eight assists as a junior.
"Takisha is a very good athlete," Hamilton said. "She's a great passer and jumper who is very good in the open floor."
He will be depending on Jordan and sharp-shooting guard Meagan Hamilton to provide leadership.
Sophomore post player Aaliyah Rice is the only other player with experience.
Newcomers complete the rest of the team.
Coach Hamilton said a talented group of freshmen — Katie Speegle, Alesia Davis and Macary Humphrey — join Rice in the front court.
"Their progress in the post will be critical to our success," he said.
Jordan and Meagan Hamilton said they know they will have to be vocal leaders this season.
That would go against both girls' quiet nature.
"We have to be leaders and do our jobs because they look up to us," Meagan Hamilton said. "We'll have to encourage them so they won't get down when things don't go right."
Jordan said it may take a while for the Lady Bears to build chemistry, but she is optimistic. Their goal is to make the Northwest Regional.
"Even though we're young, we have a chance to be good this season," Jordan said. "We just have to find that chemistry, get to know each other and figure out how everyone plays."
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