Hoop season starts tonight for the Liberty Count Panther boys. The team will play in the Savannah Classic Tournament at Windsor Forest High School. Liberty will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. against Groves.
Panther coach Willie Graham took the Panthers to a 21-8 overall record last year and a 5-5 mark in Region 2A-AAAA.
This year, Liberty returns only one true starter from last season, Michael Farrior.
“So we will be pretty much all new faces,” Graham said. “Hopefully, with a lot of new faces, we can infuse some new energy. Last year, we didn’t have a lot of energy. We didn’t have a lot of that Panther pride or tradition. We didn’t have a whole lot of senior leadership last year. So we hope … now that we have these kids that have been in the program since day one, we can get some of the old Panther pride back.”
Junior Conner Bailey and sophomore Josh Powers both played quality minutes for the varsity last season and are expected to return.
Former Panther sharpshooters Aaron Scott and Derrick Brooks both moved out of state.
Graham said the Panthers normally open the season at the Joe Greene Classic, but with region re-alignments, Beach ended up in a different classification and will not be hosting the classic. Graham said they were able to schedule the Savannah Classic, which will include a game against host Windsor Forest at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
The coach said they also plan to play in Stateboro’s annual Gentlemen’s Classic to face teams from Atlanta.
“Those are the kind of teams that make you better. Even if they beat you, they make you better,” Graham said. “They make you know where you are weak, so in that way, they make you better.”
This year, the Panthers will have new region opponents, but they all are squads Liberty has played in the past.
“It has been a while since we played South Effingham,” Graham said. “Statesboro, we have not played them as part of a regular season for a while … but we have played them in the Christmas tournament and we are familiar with them. We will play Burke County from the other side in a regular-season game, but that’s the only team from the other side we will play and we have played them before … Wayne, we are familiar with. And we still have some old rivalries on the schedule.”
Rivalries include McIntosh Academy and, of course, Bradwell Institute.
“We picked up a few Savannah teams that will supposedly have some good squads in Jenkins and Windsor Forest,” Graham said.
He said the two tournaments and the first half of the schedule will prepare his players for region games, which start in the new year.
“It’s just a matter of getting enough experience to be ready to make a run at the region and move on to the state,” he said. “We measure our success on making the state playoffs. We want to win the region along the way, but we want get to the state playoffs and move up from there.”