Big weekend for DHS, GCHS

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2006

This weekend, the Demopolis and Greene County boys’ basketball teams will both face a familiar foe: each other. And then, they’ll both face foes that are a good bit less familiar.

After the two 4A Area 5 schools clash Friday night for the lead in the area title race, both will head to Columbus, Miss. Saturday to take part in the Vaughan-Robinson Classic at New Hope High School. Livingston High will also take part in the event, which features 16 teams from Mississippi and West Alabama.

“We’re glad for the opportunity to go up and there and play,” says Demopolis coach Jesse Bell. “We’re telling the kids they need to be fundamentally sound and just go out and play. There are going to be some scouts there, but that’s what they’re looking for, fundamentals.”

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As intriguing and fun as the tournament might be, the more pressing issue for both teams is their meeting Friday in Eutaw. Demopolis is 10-2 overall, 3-0 in the area, and is on a five-game winning streak. But none of the Tigers’ opponents have been as highly regarded as Greene County: the defending 4A state titlists, the state’s current seventh-ranked 4A team, and Area 5’s other 3-0 team.

“Friday will be real, real big. Our kids think we can play with them,” says Bell. “It’ll be a great challenge for them. Hopefully they’ll step up and meet that challenge.”

According to Greene County head coach Rodney Wesley, neither the fact that Demopolis doesn’t have the statewide reputation of some previous opponents nor the Tigers’ impressive start in area play means that Greene is going to change their approach one way or the other.

“We don’t put anyone above or below anyone else. Every game is equally important,” Wesley says. “We just take it one game at a time.”

Wesley adds that while some of the team’s fans might be concerned with things like margin of victory, all that will matter to him Friday is the win.

“It’s a rivalry game. We just want to win,” he says. “That’s it. Any win is a good win.”

To earn that win, Greene County will look to its two senior big men, 6-10 center Curtis Nickson and 6-7 forward Howard Crawford, both of whom have committed to play for UAB next fall.

Both coaches know that to neutralize Greene County’s size advantage, Demopolis will try to rely on its “speed in transition,” as Bell calls it. Much of the Tigers’ offense comes from senior guard Dontrell Miller and senior forward Willie Blount, among other Tigers, creating turnovers and fast-break opportunities. If Demopolis succeeds in doing the same thing and against Greene, Nickson and Crawford could have fewer opportunities to post up against the smaller DHS frontcourt on offense or block shots on defense.

Demopolis’s strategy will put pressure on Greene guards like Robert Jones and Quentin McElory. But after Nickson and Crawford led the Tigers to last year’s title, it’s not exactly a strategy that will be new to Greene.

“The key for most teams is to run against a bigger team. They can’t get into a half-court set with our size,” Wesley says. “I’m sure Demopolis will try to do the same thing … We have to protect the ball and do our job. You have to pass over a press and not try to dribble through it.”

Wesley says, too, that Demopolis won’t be the only team interested in applying some pressure and looking for turnovers.

“On defense we’ll use pressure and man-to-man also,” he says. “Hopefully, we’ll be more successful … We’re going to want to get off to a good start and play good defense. We put our defense above our offense.”

When Greene does move into a half-court offense, the chore of defending the Tigers height will fall primarily on Demopolis sophomore forward Casey Cantey, with help hopefully coming from forwards Blount, freshman Brian Taylor, and senior Dwiuan White, recently returned to the team after an injury suffered during football season.

Bell believes Greene will use a zone defense as well as man-to-man, putting increased pressure on his team’s outside shooting (“We’ve never had a good shooting night in that gym,” he laments). But however the Tigers attack, Bell says the game should be competitive and his team will leave everything on the floor.

“They’re the 4A state champions. Everybody wants their shot, and they’re looking forward to it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to make a run for the area.”

Whatever the outcome, both teams will have the benefit of playing a lower-stress game Saturday in Columbus.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Wesley says. “With that kind of game, at a tournament or Classic, you want the kids to just go out and play well. You want to win, but the main thing is just to play well.”