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Panthers enter a new era
Tucory Rhodes takes a jump shot in last year’s playoff game against Shaw High School. Rhodes is among the returning senior Panthers coach Willie Graham said he expects great leadership from this season. - photo by Courier file photo

For the past few years, the Liberty County Panthers basketball team had Rion Brown and Jordan McRae, two standouts who posted big numbers and were the obvious leaders of the team.

With McRae now at the University of Tennessee and Brown at the University of Miami, LCHS coach Willie Graham said he has a new list of emerging leaders and a brand new region to get ready for.

"We are just coming out off the Jordan McRae-Rion Brown era, but we’ve had groups of outstanding athletes that have come through before … and all of them add to the history of our program," said Graham, whose teams have been to the Class AAA Final Four.

This season, Graham said he has big expectations from two of his returning seniors, Shakur Cook and Tucory Rhodes.

The coach said he is also looking for junior Melvin King to improve the inside game for the Panthers. King played varsity minutes as a sophomore last year and the coach said he thinks we’ll see a more mature and determined King hitting the boards.

Tamontray Tucker is expected to contribute as the junior moves up from the junior varsity squad and Graham said Mike Farrior transferred from First Presbyterian Christian Academy.

"He (Farrior) is looking very well in practice and if things continue in that positive mode we expect we can get back to the level we were last year," Graham said.

As far as moving up to Region 2A-AAAA, the coach said it has its pros and cons.

"The new region is not unfamiliar to us," he said. "We haven’t played Ware County before but we have played Wayne County, Statesboro, Glynn Academy and Brunswick … we’ve played them before in different tournaments and things. But the big thing about changing from one region to another is the lack of tapes, lack of scouting reports on what players are returning and how they did last year. That will take up a lot of time that we didn’t need to spend last year."

The early portion of the Panthers’ schedule is stacked with tournaments and non-region games that Graham said will impact their record, but allow them to get into true form as they hit the region schedule.

"Glynn Academy has been real competitive and Richmond Hill is getting back to its former self so we know they’ll be competitive," he said, looking at some of their region opponents. "I understand Ware County has a

player who is top 10 in the state, a 6’5" guard, so you know we just have to get to know them."

When it comes to game strategy, Graham said Liberty will stick to the same offensive scheme the team used for the past few years. It has carried the team to the second round of the state playoffs for the past two seasons.

"Last year Cook gave us some good defensive minutes," he said. "This year we expect those same minutes plus more and more focus on offense. We hope Rhodes will give us the balanced play from last year but with more leadership. We may not have two players who can always sink 20, but collectively we have a lot more players who can score points across the board."

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