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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2007
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Garth says Austin has talent
Black Bears open hoops season in Huntsville

By Mark Edwards
medwards@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2461

In two seasons as Austin's boys basketball coach, Demond Garth has taken his team to the Class 6A Final Four twice.

So can the Black Bears do it again?

Whether they can enjoy such a special accomplishment three straight years, Garth said he can't predict that.

But as the Austin boys and girls teams head into their season openers Friday at Huntsville, he said he's optimistic that the Black Bears can develop into a good squad.

"We have some talent," Garth said, "but we're going to have to work at it."

Austin lost all-area performers Jay Sears, who is now at Shelton State in Tuscaloosa, and Travis Cohn, who is at Jacksonville. They helped Austin post a 19-14 season that didn't end until the state semifinals against Jeff Davis of Montgomery.

Garth returns point guard Quez Powell, shooting guard Verkeneo Mann and forward George Williams, who at 6-foot-3 is the tallest player on the team. Powell and Williams are seniors, while Mann is a junior.

Mann won most valuable player honors at the Northwest Regional, which Austin won.

"They're good players, but it's going to be different this year for them," Garth said. "Last year, Jay got the other team's best defender, and Travis got the No. 2 defender. Now, Verkeneo might get the best defender, and Quez might get the No. 2.

"That's a totally different role for them."

Austin will have young help, too, from sophomore inside player Jay Watkins, who joined the varsity from the freshman squad about midway through last season. He helped give Austin a lift in the Northwest Regional.

Also, Garth is expecting another solid season from 6-foot-1 forward Chris Miller.

"He was a sixth man last year and a role player," Garth said. "He did all the dirty work. He shot about 80 percent from the field — he only shot two or three times a game but made most of them.

"He is what Austin basketball is all about — he worked hard and played his role. As long as the team won, that's all that mattered to him."

Austin will open the season with three key players on the injured list: T.T. Mallard (broken foot), Jerone White (sprained knee ligament) and Justin Jones (injured hand).

"But we're not offering any excuses," Garth said. "We've still got to get ready to play."

Meanwhile, the Austin girls have an experienced lineup returning after posting a 16-16 record a year ago.

Guards Jazmine Powers, Andrea Crayton, China McDaniel and Nikkia Jordan are back. All are seniors, except Jordan, who is a junior.

Seniors Shanise Foster and Brittney Smith are back to help the inside game. Smith missed last season because of a torn knee ligament, but she played regularly for Austin's 2006 team that advanced to the Northwest Regional semifinals.

"We're not going to go into the season completely green," third-year Austin coach Bruce Hamilton said.

He added that the lineup will be "small but quick."

Powers, who has signed with Samford, will handle point guard duties most of the time. McDaniel and Jordan will play at that position at times, too, but Powers will get the bulk of the time there.

"She knows exactly what we want to do, and she's difficult to defend," Hamilton said. "We're fortunate to have someone like her on the floor."

Austin has the misfortune of playing in a difficult area. Class 6A, Area 13 includes defending state champion Sparkman, an improved Florence team and Bob Jones, which lost in the Northwest Regional finals to Sparkman.

Even so, Hamilton said he has confidence in his team.

"I think we're capable of beating anyone on any given night," he said.

But then he emphasized an addition to that — "But to do that, we have to execute, play hard and stay in shape."

Austinís season opener

  • Who: Austin vs. Huntsville.

  • Where: Huntsville High.

  • When: Friday. The girls varsity starts at 5:30 p.m., while the boys play at 7.

  • Season tickets: Austin High is selling season passes for all home games at $40 for adults and $30 for students. Fans can buy season passes in the schoolís main office or before home games at Joe Jones Gymnasium. The season pass is good for Austinís game against Decatur at Calhoun on Dec. 7. Individual tickets to home games are $5 each.

    Mark Edwards

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