Tigers finding bite

Published 11:35 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NEWBERN — The Sunshine Tigers are off to a 1-2 start following tough losses against Francis-Marion and R.C. Hatch.

“The last couple years, I felt we could play anybody 1A to 6,” head coach Walter Jones said of his program. “Now I think we’ll be good in 1A competition.”

A big part of the team’s altered expectations is the loss of former standouts Marcus Lee and Royce Hamilton, who now don the maroon and white of Alabama A&M, and Justin Wagner, who is finding his stride at Shelton State.

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“No one has really taken the reigns,” Jones said. “But we have a talented group of kids.”

The Tigers may lack the size that has blessed their lineup in previous years. However, Jones is confident the team will prove capable of chasing its goal of winning a state championship.

“We have potential,” Jones said. “The thing is, we’re starting with a really, really tough schedule.”

That schedule raises some concerns for Jones, as he hopes the prospect of his team hitting a wall against a higher level of competition does not do permanent damage to its psyche.

“With a young team, sometimes, that will kill the confidence,” Jones said.

While his team does not have the length up and down its roster as it has had in seasons past, Jones is encouraged by what he has seen on the floor thus far.

“I think we’re quicker and rebound the ball really well,” Jones said of his team’s strengths. “The thing we need to work on is ball security.”

Much of those concerns will be addressed when Jones is able to put his entire roster on the floor. He is currently without three of his guards due to academic issues.

“Once we get back to full strength, after the first of the year, I think we’ll be a pretty good basketball team,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to keep churning away until we get to our region play.”

That region includes a resurgent John Essex team, a Linden squad renowned for its athleticism, a Sweet Water team packed with the usual suspects and an A.L. Johnson team building around high-profile scorer Kejuan McGhee.