January 18, 2014

Grady County Tournament team-by-team preview

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


1. Alex (boys)

Head coach Isaac Byrne understands what lies ahead for his team in this tournament, saying after their big win over Stratford to win the Longhorn Classic last weekend that his team has a "target on their back."

There is a difference, of course, between seeing the target and hitting it. The Longhorns bring a mix of size and outside shooting to their game. Leading the way is senior Shaedon Castor, an explosive point guard that also poses a threat from long range.

Daton Payne showed he can support the long-range game with an important nine points in the second half of that win against Stratford. When the shots aren't falling, Jacob Otey helps balance the team with his work on the low block. This along with a vast supporting cast capable of changing the game makes the Longhorns the boys' tournament favorite.


1. Rush Springs (girls)

The Lady Redskins are hands-down favorites for the girls' title, and Jordan Brooks is a big reason for that.

Performances like the one she had in Alex, where her 39 points led Rush Springs past the Lady Longhorns, make it hard to believe the 5' 9" forward is only a freshman. There's more to the Rush Springs girls that youthful enthusiasm. A senior class that includes Kaylee Large, Rikki Brown, Samantha Dennis and Kaylin Renneker provides the backbone, and junior Jacy Cullers provides more experience to a highly rated team.

Such experience could prove vital, and head coach Rick Parrish has many players that know what it takes to get by in this knockout tournament.


2. Minco (boys)

As 2012 champions, the Bulldogs will be out to take back the title and stand a good chance as the second seed.

The Bulldogs enter the tournament off the back of a homecoming game against Geary and a midweek win against Okarche in which they had four players in double digits. Head coach Robert Duvall's Minco appears to be getting in the top gear at the right time, as he called their win over Okarche their best performance of the season so far.

In that game, Blake Schenberger led the way with 16 points. But with two players on 15 points and one other on 14, the Bulldogs show signs of a team that can spread the ball around and score from multiple angles.


3. Am-Po (girls)

Perennial champions Amber-Pocasset girls face their toughest test yet to retain their title, which they have won now for the last eight years.

They do return a strong lineup, as last year's team had only one senior, Dontasia McAfee, who never knew what it was like to go to a girls' final with Am-Po and lose. The addition of guard Suzanne Parker further boosts this Lady Panthers team.

First year head coach Steve Pelzer will hope to resurrect that tournament magic once again to make a run in what is a competitive girls bracket.


4. Alex (girls)

The Lady Longhorns made a statement in winning their Longhorn Classic tournament, but a fourth seed draw shows just how competitive this girls' bracket is.

If the shots are falling for Alex, they can score from anywhere on the court. Senior point guard Holly Anderson sank three from beyond the arc on her way to 23 points in the Longhorn Classic final, while junior Ashley Williams has a habit of getting open around the lane and has a consistent jump shot. Then there's always senior Jordan Washburn, who can change a game with a few three pointers.

Like other teams around them, the Lady Longhorns lack size to balance out their attacking threat. Perfection on defense and a few hot hands are important for Alex to progress.


5. Verden

The defending champions may have fallen down the pecking order to five, but to underestimate them is a serious risk.

Trystan Morgan provides the main attacking threat for the Tigers. He opened up 2014 with 27 points to lead them past Binger-Oney at home. Even with Morgan and Dusty Keil, it'll be a tough task for Verden with the path they've been given.


6. Am-Po (boys)

The Panthers haven't been as fortunate as the girls in past tournaments, but first-year head coach Drew Miller is looking to change that, as is point guard Tyler Miller.

He showed just exactly what he can do when the Panthers are on top, sinking six threes in Am-Po's 55-31 demolition of Wayne earlier this month. While they may not have a lot of size, Murphy Douglas provides balance by popping up inside the perimeter to get some valuable jump shots that keep the Panther run going.


6. Ninnekah (girls)

It's a middle-of-the-road kind of year for both Ninnekah basketball teams. The Lady Owls have Erin Cheek, Cheyenne Morris and Ciara Garrett providing the bulk of the points on offense. Garrett and Cheek also provide the bulk of the rebounds for Ninnakah, with both tallying multiple double-doubles already this season.


7. Ninnekah (boys)

Clay and Cody Chaney are among the Ninnekah boys players to watch. Both top the scoring list regularly, and Cody provides some hard work down low. In a recent loss to Union City, he still brought down six offensive rebounds, an underrated skill. 

Blake Daggs can also pop up to give the Owls and extra offensive boost.


7. Minco (girls)

A recent coaching change and the loss of a key player has the Lady Bulldogs reshuffling ahead of the tournament.

Alesha Brummel, who served as an assistant to the now departed Bruce Hobgood for many years, now sits at the helm of Minco girls basketball. But she'll be without six-foot center Sydni Hutchinson, who is struggling to return from a back injury. As a result, Minco will have to switch to a more fast-paced game that "creates offense through defense", Brummel said.

This puts the spotlight more on guards like Corey Phelts, a strong long-range shooter and Minco's best free-throw shooter, and Natalie Blevens.


8. Rush Springs (boys)

Rounding out the boys' bracket is Rush Springs, in stark contrast to the girls' side of things.

The Redskins have had a tough time this season, but they still hold some key threats. Hunter Trusty, a six-foot junior, will need to be watched closely as he has the skills to cause trouble down low. The same can be said for Jace Jones. Their first round game against Alex is a rematch from December, when the Longhorns prevailed 76-42.


8. Verden (girls)

The Lady Tigers have also had a tough season so far.

Cheyenne Hannah is the player to watch for Verden, with the ability to score from both outside and inside the perimeter. The best chance for the Lady Tigers will come if she is in top form.