Boys basketball jump starts season

Boys basketball jump starts season

Photo credit Eliza Granade

Shorter days, colder weather, and leafless trees can only mean one thing: the beginning of the new basketball season. It’s the time of year when devoted Westminster fans trade in their warm jackets and gloves from the football season and pack into Turner Gym to cheer the basketball teams to victory. Fans got an exciting taste of what the rest of the season will entail on Dec. 2, when they watched the varsity boys basketball team dominate regional foe Clarkston.

The Cats are off to a 3-1 start, an accomplishment considering the many obstacles the team had to overcome. The success of the Wildcats football team meant that the playoffs overlapped with preseason basketball practices, so many of the basketball players missed valuable time to get ready for the basketball season. In fact, starting shooting guard Robert Kresser was the only senior able to attend preseason workouts.

“It took us a few games to get into the swing of things,” said Kresser. “But now we feel like we are ready.”

With the loss of eight seniors from last year’s squad, including big man and all-region player Cameron Smith, the Wildcats acknowledge that they will undoubtedly have to work hard to overcome the transitional phase that often accompanies a lack of experience.

“Because so many seniors graduated last year,” said senior point guard Michael Russell, “the current seniors who didn’t play much last year will have to step up into key roles.”

Russell is the team’s only returning starter. Kresser and fellow senior Rivers Patterson, along with juniors Joe Bridges and Harrison Butker, have provided valuable minutes for the Cats and stepped in to fill the starting positions. Because the Cats lack great height, coach Tray Malloy chose to start a quicker lineup consisting of three forwards, one shooting guard, and one point guard, while lacking a center. Bridges, Butker, and Patterson have had to adjust to the new lineup as the three forwards. In addition to the graduation of four starters, the team also lost players to injuries. Senior Chapman Wilkinson has had an especially difficult season, suffering from a broken collarbone and a case of mono. Returning sophomore Quay Strozier is still recovering from a broken foot that occurred in the early football season.

Despite these set backs, Malloy and his determined squad believe they have what it takes to be successful.

“We have a ton of new and inexperienced guys,” explained Russell. “A lot of our success is going to depend on how to find a way to grind it out and get a win in the column.”

The Cats hope to redeem themselves from last year’s early loss in the regional tournament that eliminated their opportunity to compete in the state playoffs. Malloy hopes the team will follow in the footsteps of last year’s hardworking and determined seniors.

“They helped define what it takes to be successful,” said Malloy.

The Cats’ practice jerseys boast the acronym “HST.” This slogan, implemented when Malloy took over as head coach in 2010, has actually united the team over the years. Each day the Cats strive to embody the mantra “Hard, Smart, Together” when they step on the court.

“These three words filter down from many of the values that coaches such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari, and former Indiana coach Bob Knight use in guiding their teams,” explained Malloy.

The Wildcats began their season with an exciting two-point victory over Riverwood. Russell led the team to victory with 16 points. Following the win against the Raiders, the Cats were defeated by AAA powerhouse St. Pius. The Wildcats struggled to move the ball against a strong Golden Lion defense and could not get the ball in the net. However, the Cats rebounded with back-to-back region victories over Clarkston and Cross Keys. Against Clarkston the Wildcats won by an impressive 18 points, then raised the winning margin to 30 points against Cross Keys. These region wins are especially important as the Wildcats are in one of the toughest regions in the state. In order to advance to the state tournament in February, the Cats will need an impeccable regional record. Other regional opponents include 2010 state runner-up Buford, Decatur, defending AA state champion Greater Atlanta Christian, rival Lovett, Maynard Jackson, the historically dominant South Atlanta Hornets, and Therrell.

In the upcoming weeks, the Cats will host the annual Holiday Classic Tournament. Westminster won the tournament two years ago but lost in the final four versus Paideia last year. With an opening game against Jefferson, the Wildcats are hoping to establish a daunting reputation by placing first.