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Linden girls build on experience, mental toughness

The Patriot basketball teams hit the hardwood for the first time this season when they travel to Francis Marion tonight. All three Linden squads feature new coaches and an athletic collection of players who are hoping to adapt quickly after a late start to the season.

“I’ve seen some people get better already,” Andro Williams, coach of the girls team, said. “They’re understanding the tempo of practice. They’ve got to get used to that mentality.”

Williams’ group is characterized by young, inexperienced players who will be challenged early.

“We’ve got to look towards the people that have been out here a couple years,” Williams said. “We’ve got to find ways to get it done right now. We’ve got to have people step up mentally and physically.”

The Patriot ladies will boast a backcourt that features junior Terrica Craig and senior Kristi Lloyd.

“She didn’t play point last year,” Williams said of Craig, who will slide over from her customary shooting guard spot to call the shots in the Linden offense. “She’s the one I want to put the ball in her hands and let her make us go.”

Williams said that decision is aided by the presence of Lloyd, who will be able to provide leadership, guidance and additional ball handling in her new role as the team’s two-guard. Lloyd served as the squad’s point guard last season before injuring her ACL.

“We’re looking for Megan Hinton to be big for us inside,” Williams said of the six-foot senior who he expects will average close to a double-double over the course of the season.

The ladies travel to R.C. Hatch Thursday after opening with Francis Marion tonight.

“That’s going to help us down the road,” Williams said of the tough early-season tilt of games. “That’s going to help us in our area. Our area play is going to jump on us in a hurry.”

The varsity boys squad is run by new head coach Joe Eatmon. The University of West Alabama product has high expectations heading into the season.

“We’ve got a group of athletic kids, kids who work hard,” Eatmon said. “It helps to have seven seniors because they’ve been to Montgomery pretty much every year they’ve been in the program.”

Eatmon’s group hopes it finally has the right formula to advance beyond the Sub-Regionals on its way to the state finals.

“I feel like this is the team that can go past Montgomery, all the way to Birmingham to be exact,” senior Kendarius Goodwill said.

“I tell the kids everyday it’s time to get over the hump,” Eatmon said. “It’s time to get past Montgomery and do something special.

A big part of the team’s ability to accomplish that quest will be its response to its new coach. Goodwill says the team is high on its new mentor.

“Honestly, there are a whole lot of things I couldn’t do that I can do now,” Goodwill said of Eatmon. “He brings the best out of you. We’ve been pushed harder probably than we’ve ever been pushed before.”

Eatmon’s squad, despite being delayed by the extended season of the Linden football team, considers’ its sister program’s success an asset.

“Football, we had a great season. That helps my program with football doing so well,” Eatmon said. Winning is contagious. Even though we’ve only been in the gym for seven or eight days, you can already see the difference. They know what it takes to win.”

“When (the football team) finally lost, they figured out how much it hurt and it made them want to try harder,” senior point guard Ajalon Bruno said of the experience he believes that the eight dual-sport athletes on the Patriot varsity basketball roster will carry with them into the season.

Eatmon’s team will run a long, athletic lineup out nightly that features the six-foot Bruno at point.

“The tempo game we’re going to play, I feel like caters to our talent,” Eatmon said. “We’re going to play an exciting style of basketball. But at the same time, it’s going to have some structure. I’m really big on structure.”

Like the girls squad, the Patriot boys will open with tough out-of-area competition against Francis Marion and R.C. Hatch before tipping off region play against John Essex Saturday.

“We’ve got a loaded out-of-conference schedule. I really feel like it’s going to help me with my region games,” Eatmon said.

The action will start at 5 p.m. with the B-team boys, coached by first-year man William Matthews. The girls’ game will follow immediately afterwards before wrapping up with the varsity boys.