COLUMBIA — For nine seniors, including Trey Miller and Jaylen Lindsay, the future is now for the Newberry High School basketball program.
Miller and Lindsay are ready for a rematch of last year’s state championship game against the Lake Marion Gators.
In that 73-62 loss, much of the game was back and forth with 27 lead changes, 13 ties and the rebounds close to even, NHS Coach Chad Cary said.
Lake Marion hit a clutch three-point shot to take the lead and even though he said the NHS play was good down the stretch, the Dogs could not retake the lead.
Lindsay said this time around he will continue to defend on the ball but also will help out crashing the boards alongside senior big men Trey Gary (6-foot-4) and Dominic Gilmore (6-foot-3). Guard Raquon Davenport (6-foot-3) will be called upon to help mitigate the Gators’ size advantage.
An off season of weight training, pick-up ball and workouts have got him and his fellow big men as ready as they can be for this moment.
Lindsay said they have done drills all season to make them stronger and that the big men will be going strong to the basket so the taller Lake Marion players have a harder time blocking NHS shots.
“They (Lake Marion) are taller and bigger but we just have to find a way to rebound better,” Lindsay said.
Last year he said Lake Marion leaked a lot of players out in transition and that led to scoring opportunities. This year they are determined to slow that transition offense.
He and his teammates have done a lot of 4-on-5 skeleton drills to prepare for transition defense.
In the skeleton drills the four players go toward the baseline and then move a few feet closer together to keep the opposition in front of them. After attacking the ball they double back to crash the boards and get rebounds.
Lindsay believes it will take a team effort to get the Bulldogs over the top. He said the team chemistry and togetherness, like family, will be something the players lean on as they play Saturday.
Cornelius Cromer, assistant director of athletics for Newberry High School, said it is remarkable what these young men have accomplished three years in a row.
He has seen these student-athletes since teaching them at Newberry Middle School and said they have grown up together and have a true respect for one another. They are friends who hang out off the court and play pickup ball at the Y.
That relationship is a credit to Coach Cary and Coaches Adonnis Hill and Mike Hughes and the system they run.
“You share the ball and it comes back to you. In fact, they keep an unofficial statistic of hockey assists, meaning recording the pass that leads to the assist that leads to the basket,” Cromer said.
“The last three years, the preparation (and everything else we have done) has worked so we’ll basically do that the same way and hopefully get a win this time,” Cromer said.
He estimates 8,000 to 9,000 fans came to see the Dogs play last season including students from Mid-Carolina High School and Whitmire Community School who donned light blue shirts in support of NHS.
“This has been a historic run, once in a generation type run. We hope lots of people come out and experience it and support us,” Cromer said.
Principal Katrina Singletary agrees and, like Cromer, has known the student-athletes since she was their principal at Newberry Middle School.
“School spirit is high and that is evident by our students and parents cheering at the games,” Singletary said. “It’s cool to see such great support and we hope to see a lot of fans wearing blue Saturday in Colonial Life Arena.”
Loaded for … Gator
Cary and his staff reloaded from a season ago and have the Bulldogs on the cusp of a championship.
“We are in the state championship and our sense of urgency is a little higher (than Lake Marion) since we have not won state before,” Cary said. “With nine seniors we know it might be a while before we get back here so we have to take advantage of it (Saturday).”
Cary said he knows NHS has a tall order ahead versus 6-foot-7 Michael Rhodes, 6-foot-7 Austin Lawton and leading scorer 6-foot-5 Deriante Jenkins. The guards all are listed at 5-foot-11 or taller.
He hopes aggressive up-tempo play will work in the Bulldogs’ favor one more week.
Cary said he would not tinker with his lineup to put a bigger bunch on the floor, preferring to stay fast.
“Lake Marion is a lot like Indian Land but with better scorers and taller guards. That said, we played teams with taller guards at the Dorman Classic and played well,” he said.
Lake Marion has a size advantage that Coach Roy Brown hopes will pay off as they play up to their length.
“With six seniors and a supporting cast, we have a good group coming back,” Coach Brown said.
Brown’s team plays man-to-man defense and runs a motion offense. He can go big using a point forward in leading scoring Deriante Jenkins, similar to how Magic Johnson ran sets for the Lakers.
Lake Marion also relies upon a front line of Austin Lawton (6-foot-5), Kezimen Myers (6-foot-5) and Michael Rhodes (6-foot-7).
Brown said the Gators were fortunate to advance after a less than stellar performance in the AA Lower State Championship Game.
“I just hope we can come out and play the best we possibly can,” he said. “Our schemes are the same and many of the players are the same but we still have to work together if we are going to accomplish what we did last season.”
Tickets to the game are available for $10 each and are for sale at Newberry High School. All money from tickets sold in Newberry will stay in the Newberry County athletics system. Gate money from tickets sold at the game goes to the South Carolina High School League.
For a profile of senior guard Trey Miller and continuing coverage of the Bulldogs quest for a championship, see Friday’s edition of The Newberry Observer.