After posting a 20-8 overall record, including a 5-1 Region 3-AAAA mark, and making the state playoffs last season, the Liberty County boys’ basketball team is ready to do better this year.
“With only six teams in our region … we are looking beyond the region tournament this season … it will be a very disappointing year, regardless of the record, if we don’t go beyond the region tournament and into the state playoffs,” Panther coach Willie Graham said.
He added, however, that the task of getting there remains under development.
“We will be short in numbers and not a lot of experience, and my overall problem is we just don’t have any size,” he said. “We’ll be the 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 team trying to play Statesboro and the other teams with players that are 6 foot 5 and taller … but we have to go with what we got.”
Graham said sophomore Devion Mitchell will return as a starter this year, but that Mitchell still needs to work on his shooting.
“He has not progressed as much as we had hoped he would in some activities,” Graham said. “His 12-15-foot jump shot is still lacking ... but he is just a sophomore, so hopefully he will improve as the season goes.”
Junior and three-year starter Jishaun Harris will be tasked with stepping into a leadership role this year.
“He needs to be a little more physical, more consistent and more of a team leader,” the coach said.
Football standout Richard LeCounte also is expected to add valuable minutes. The coach said LeCounte, Tracy White, Tyreon Freeman and Dashawn Hudson will miss next Friday’s season opener at Bradwell Institute because the football team will be playing in the first round of the playoffs that day.
“We will be right there with them,” Graham said upon learning the Tigers have a relatively young team this year. “We will not have all of our pieces; at least four of our players will still be playing football that Friday, so we won’t be at full strength … but it’s a rivalry and we have to step up and play.”
When sizing up opponents, Graham knows there are a few teams the Panthers will need to contend with.
“Burke, well, they are just competitors. They come in and they play hard. Wayne County will be tough,” he said. “I’m not sure about Thompson. They were good last year, but they lost a significant amount of starters. We have a pretty tough region, but if we mature and find a leader, I think we can compete.”