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Sunshine boys to host area tourney

With three sophomores and a freshman on the starting five of a Sunshine team that’s run away with the 1A Area 8 regular season title, it’s safe to say that two years from now the Tigers are going to be very, very good.

But head coach Walter Jones isn’t interested in two years from now. He’s ready for the Tigers to be very, very good today.

“I told my guys, the future is now,” he says. “You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have.”

As it turns out, Jones and his Tigers have carved out a nice opportunity for themselves. By clinching the Area 8 title with a game (against Akron, Friday) to spare, Sunshine will host the area tournament starting next Tuesday. Sunshine has been especially formidable at home, where they have upset both Demopolis and 4A Area 6 champion Greensboro.

“I feel pretty good about (having home-court advantage),” Jones says. “Normally we don’t have a letdown at home, either as players or as a team.”

But the key word for Jones in that sentence is “normally.” After starting area play with a 6-0 record, last Friday Sunshine hosted a Carrolton team they had previously defeated in Carrolton by more than 20 points. But the Tigers came out flat and suffered their first area loss.

“It’s a wake-up call. It got to the point where they thought everything was going to be easy,” Jones says. “That’s youth. They don’t understand that just because you beat someone once, doesn’t mean you’ll just do it again. But we’ll be fine. We just need to get focused again and play the way we were. We’re getting there.”

Despite their inexperience, the way the young Tigers were playing was, in a word, top-notch. Sophomore point guard Marcus Lee has played like a veteran running the offense while sophomore guard Royce Hamilton, sophomore forward Justin Wagner, and freshman forward Darmekis Lewis provide the teams’ scoring spark.

Sophomore Courtney Carr and eighth-grader David Taylor get important minutes off the bench, leaving junior starter Reako Long and senior Roger Melton as the only members of Sunshine’s first eight beyond the 10th grade.

If the Tigers are to capitalize on their success in earning home-court advantage, Jones says, they will need to play well in a number of facets of the game.

“Being aggressive on offense is key. We usually shoot the ball pretty well,” he says. “Since our guys are young, so we don’t always rebound as well as we could. Our bench play is very important, too.”

One member of that bench has become a point of inspiration for the team. Jones says Melton has patiently “waited his time” over several seasons for a starting position to open up, only to suffer an ACL tear over last summer.

But Jones says the senior has battled and battled to make whatever contribution he could to his team. As a result, his commitment has made making his final season a successful one an even more important focus for the rest of the Tigers.

“Sometimes coaches can learn things from their players, too,” says Jones, “and I’ve learned a lot from watching him hang in there. He does everything I ask him to.”

Now Jones has something to ask his entire team: forget everything you’ve accomplished so far and get ready for the postseason.

“Over the summer, we set our goals. The first one is to win the regular season area championship. We’ve done that,” he says. “Now we have to put all that behind us and focus on our next goal, which is to win the area tournament. They have to understand that this is a new season. We’re starting over.”