By R. Alan Richardson
Some observers might believe that the 2019-20 version of Morgan County Bulldog basketball will be in a rebuilding mode. The members of the team and coaching staff might believe otherwise. Every new season brings about new challenges, and this Jamond Sims’ led squad is no different. The graduation of four starters and one key substitute from the 2019 Class AAA State Champions will certainly be hard to replace (all five are playing at the college level this season), but Sims feels that the Dogs will find a way to continue the Bulldog winning tradition with this year’s mostly untested and untried group of players.
He said, “We open up with two good teams in Madison County and Newton County. Some people might have expected me to massage the schedule, but it’s one of those things that we’ve never done before. I think the guys know they will have a target on their back so it shouldn’t catch them off guard. My expectations are the same as always. The players in the uniforms might change, but the expectations never do. We want to be the best team on the floor every time we play. For this group we want to make sure we see maturation and improvement with each game from each individual as the season progresses. Our two seniors (AJ Brown and Trent Folds) have deep varsity experience and several of the others have been there in that locker room, sat in on white board and film sessions, and watched those guys who graduated. I have no doubt about their ability, but the biggest thing is can you control your emotions and get it done when the lights come on? That’s the only question I have at this point.
There will be those who are looking to dethrone the Bulldog dynasty. There will be those looking for payback from a decade of Morgan basketball dominance in 8-AAA. There will be doubters. Can this year’s team put them to bed? How will they handle the pressure of upholding that tradition? “These guys expect to win. They’ve been around good basketball, good players, and seen it happen. They believe that if I put my work and time in that good things are going to happen. This team expects to be good,” said a confident Sims.
The Morgan County representatives at this year’s annual 8-AAA media day at Jefferson High School’s Arena were junior point guard Desmond White, senior swingman AJ Brown, and sophomore power forward Malachi Hardy. These three will be counted upon for scoring, effort, and leadership. They will play a vital role in the success of this year’s squad. Brown is the only returning starter from a year ago, but Hardy and White were the first subs at their respective positions off the bench for the majority of the year. Hardy came into his own during the State Title run as his minutes increased and White showed some grit, determination, and a deft outside shooting touch on a team where he wasn’t expected to carry much of the scoring load. It should be interesting to see how this triumvirate does in replacing last year’s deadly scoring trio of Stevin Greene, Alec Woodard, and Tyrin Lawrence.
This year’s team will feature a much smaller lineup than the 2018 roster. Hardy measures in at 6-3 as one of Morgan’s post players alongside Folds at 6-1 at the five position and probable starter Marquavious Wright at 6-3. Wright is a likely candidate to hold down the small forward position as a sophomore, according to the head man. White and Brown will take care of the ballhandling duties in the backcourt for Sims and be counted on for some outside shooting punch.
The players were asked how they felt the summer workouts went. White said, “I thought it went well. We’ve got some new guys who moved up from the JV and others that didn’t play last year. We seem to be more on the same page now and things are running smoother. The team is growing and our chemistry is coming together. We’ve got to step up this year.” Hardy agreed, “We played a lot of zone this summer, but our communication is getting better in our man-to-man defense. We worked on knowing where to be and pressed some to see how it looked.” Brown gave this assessment, “We played in the NCAA team camp at McEachern against some tough teams. It wasn’t like we couldn’t beat them. We played good and worked hard.”
Sims was asked if he had concerns about the team’s overall lack of size and how he might offset that deficiency. He responded, “Malachi will be a big factor for us in that category. He has expanded his game like we tried to do with Jalen in his sophomore season. If you recall, the season after that group graduated in Alec’s sophomore year, many thought we would have to rebuild. Low and behold we found ourselves playing for it all in Stegeman Coliseum against Pace without much size at 6-3 and 6-4.” Hardy added, “The coaches preach it to us every day. We’re not as big so we have to work harder. We have to be physical, tough, and confident. Boxing out and communicating will be important for us.”
New faces for the upcoming season include sophomore Ty Butler, a lightning-quick guard who will likely spell White at the point position and all-around athlete Rogers Clark, among a few others. “Ty is one of those players who can get to any spot on the court he wants to, create his own shot and get to the basket. He had a little difficulty transitioning to the high school last year, but has things in order now. Clark reminds me of a Jordan Huff-type athlete who can do a lot of things for us. He’s a big, strong kid who will get quality minutes on the court and is a great student-citizen off of it,” noted Sims.
8-AAA stacks up as another tough out in 2019-20. Early polls have Franklin County, Jefferson, and Monroe Area ranked highly, but polls don’t mean much at this point. The Lions return their backcourt tandem from a surprise at-large bid team that made the Elite Eight and Jefferson has the best big man in the league to go along with some gamers. Monroe always looks good in a uniform and will field a very athletic team again.
The Dogs have their work cut out for them, no doubt, and a high standard to maintain. Are they talking about it? “All the time,” said White. “Our goals are to carry on the tradition that’s been laid down, work hard every day, and don’t let up.”
Both varsity teams open up on Nov. 7 with a scrimmage at home vs. Madison County at 6 p.m. The first regular season contest is slated for Nov. 9 against Newton County under first-year head coach Charlemagne Gibbons. That home game begins with JV action at 2:30. Varsity starts at 5:30.