It’s been nearly three weeks since the Liberty County Panthers hit the courts and tonight they check to see just how rusty they may be.
They play in West Laurens to start a four-game region run.
"Today will be our eighth practice since we came back from the holidays," boys coach Willie Graham said Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a region game, on the road, in hostile environment and you have to go back and start all over."
The boys are currently 10-1 overall and 2-0 in region 3-AAA. Tonight’s game is the first in a string against different region foes. Tomorrow they host Burke County. Tuesday they host Richmond Hill. And next Friday they head to Baldwin.
January is crunch time for Georgia high school basketball and Graham said fans can expect three games a weeks for the rest of the month. Most of the games will be region battles for state positioning.
"We only have one non-region game in the next 11 games," he said. "If we can win out these region games, then we can go in seeded number one and with only seven teams in our region we will automatically have a spot in the state. Then we will be playing for first place in the region and probably playing at home in the first round."
The Panthers lost Tracey Jester, who transferred to another school, but gained two additional players. Chris Riley returned to LCHS after a brief stint with the Bradwell Tigers and Henry Roberts is joining the Panther squad.
"We think he will add some depth to our bench," he said about Roberts. "Chris has been with us before and when you have that kind of competition for starting and playing time, it’s always a good environment for the coaches."
The Lady Panthers approached the Christmas break by taking only three days off before returning to practice. Coach Carolyn Kelly wanted to get an early start to integrate two new players to her squad. Lady Panther Miata Askew returns to the lineup after taking time off to rehabilitate a knee injury. And former Lady Highlander Catherine Scaggs has transferred to LCHS.
"We’ve been doing a lot of new stuff and going through some different fundamentals," Kelly said. "We have two new players that I think will help us down the stretch so we had to try to mainstream them into our system. Give them an idea of what we want them to do."
Kelly said Askew is not new, but has missed playing time to her injury. She said Askew is not at 100 percent yet but the practice time has allowed her to get back in basketball shape and get reacquainted with her squad.
Scaggs was averaging 10 point per game as a Highlander. Kelly said she is sound on the fundamentals and is adjusting to a new scheme and new teammates.
"It may take her a while to get adjusted to this style of play," she said. "But I think if she sticks with it and plays hard we will see some good things from her. I think her biggest challenge is getting adjusted to the pace of the game in our region."
Kelly said the first part of the season could be considered practice games.
"It gave us time to see what we need to do in order to get better in the region games," she said. "Now is when it counts and we are trying to get mentally prepared."