By R. Alan Richardson
How does a team replace their two leading scorers that contributed almost 40 points per night a year ago? That is just one of many questions that first-year head coach Timothy Roop will try to answer this season. The two vocal leaders are now plying their craft at the college level, but the remainder of the starting lineup and reserves return intact. This, along with the addition of some new names on the roster, should give the Lady Dogs’ basketball squad the opportunity to make some noise in an always tough 8-AAA schedule. Outside games early will test the squad as they open up with a scrimmage against Madison County at home Nov. 7 and turn around to face AAAAAAA giant Newton County two days later on Nov. 9 at home.
This past weekend gave us a glimpse of what this team could look like at the Region Media Day held at Jefferson High School. Attendees included Coach Roop and two underclassmen; returning shooting guard Shay Brown, and newcomer freshman Peyten Spain. Seniors Neshay Cobb, Tiana Adams, Taylor Wilson, Kourtney Elder and Tamia Benford were unable to attend due to ACT testing.
Morgan began tryouts and practices Monday. Roop filled us in on how things were going the first week. “We are looking good and having a good time. I thought it went well this week with 20 girls in the program on the varsity and JV combined. The program looks to be in good shape right now from a successful MCMS program and up. Our main objective right now is development of our players. We kept a low number on the teams so that we could better work to help these young ladies improve to become better basketball players.”
Roop is no stranger to the Morgan County sideline. He has worked for the past two years with Josh Reeves who headed up the program for several years before departing after last season. Roop is also no stranger to the rigors of being the man in charge. He took over a Social Circle girls’ program and turned them into a competitive team before his departure. He said, “I’m very excited about where we are and coming into my first year as the head coach. Things won’t change that much. When I came in with Coach Reeves, he let me put in anything I wanted to if it could help us. The transition went well then and is going well now. Our offensive plays and sets will be pretty much the same and everybody knows what we are going to be like on defense. That’s not going to change.”
That suffocating defense he referred to has been a constant in the success of the program for a number of years, and Roop is smart enough to realize that it doesn’t need fixing. “Our pressure defense, man-to-man, and our 1-3-1 trap all looked good this summer. We used the 1-3-1 a lot last year to create turnovers when we dropped back out of our full court press. We’ll keep the presses there and use our depth to push the tempo.” According to Roop, the team should be deeper off the bench that last season with little drop off in ability and talent. “We mixed up our first and second groups some this week and it was very competitive. In the past, we haven’t been able to do than with the talent of our two’s. It’s looking good right now.”
Brown has been instrumental in the success of her teams since bouncing onto the scene at Morgan County Middle School. She saw significant playing time as a freshman and started a few games down the stretch and in the State Playoffs when Reid was injured late in the season. The motor she displays on defense has always been a given, and her improved offense is still a work in progress. She said, “This year I hope to improve my game by driving more to the basket. Last year I was more of a catch-and-shoot player, but Coach Roop is working on me taking the ball in and driving more this year.” With her already superb athletic ability, this will only add to her game.
Spain, a starting outfielder for the Lady Dogs in softball, will be a nice addition to the mix. Roop commented, “Peyton will be playing lots of minutes for us and could even be our first sub of the bench as a freshman. She’s a versatile athlete who moved in from the Conyers area.”
A probable starting lineup for MOCO could be Wilson at point guard, Brown at shooting guard, Benford at small forward, Elder at power forward, and Cobb anchoring down the middle at center. Cobb will be a vital cog in Roop’s schemes on both ends of the floor. The six footer was much improved offensively as a junior and has always been a shot blocker and rebounder for Morgan. The trio on the perimeter are as quick as any group in the Region with Benford projected as the leading candidate for offensive output after the junior season she had. Elder is always steady and just gets after it on defense. Other names to look for are Miracle Hunter in the paint and another transfer, Taylor Frederick, who has shown a knack for knocking down open shots during summer workouts.
Roop continued, “Our five seniors all have a sour taste in their mouth from last year and how things ended. We had a good run. I thought we were one of the best teams in the state in December, but we kind of fell off after that. I’m not making excuses, but the injury to Lou and the loss to Monroe in the Region tournament hurt us. We found a back door into the State Playoffs as an at-large bid and played a great game beating Kendrick at their place in the first round. However, we got it handed to us in Savannah. The seniors know this is their last shot to do something special. They are working hard and we are all looking forward to our first two games against some quality competition. Those early games will be a good measuring stick for us. I’ve told the girls that we will go 10 deep, so if you’re sitting on that bench, you’re going to play. You better be ready. I can’t wait.”