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November 21, 2013

Veteran Tigers Basketball Squad Looking to Take Next Step in 2013-14 Season

A year of growing-pains for the Scotland County Tigers basketball program looks poised to pay off heading into the 2013-14 season. Returning all five starters while adding even more depth to the bench has the Tigers generating some pre-season buzz atop the Tri-Rivers Conference.

Without a single senior, last year's Tigers posted a 10-15 mark. Coach Lance Campbell expects better results in 2013, with a solid lineup led by a trio of seniors.

Lucas Howard led the Tigers averaging 17.5 points a game and 7.5 rebounds per contest as well as 3.5 blocked shots. Brice Cowell averaged just shy of nine points a night while Cordie Kigar scored 5.8 points a game.

The latter two will need to pick up some of the scoring slack early in the year, as Howard is expected to be side-lined through Christmas vacation recovering from knee surgery required for a football injury.

"Cordie and Brice played really well this summer," Campbell said. "They shot the ball really well and I think that will translate into the season as they have gained more confidence."

That poise is apparent with the entire team, which put in a lot of work in the off season with good results.

"We played a lot of games, and finished with a 19-13 mark against some really good competition," Campbell said.

He noted that Howard missed about a third of the summer season, and the Tigers played really well despite the absence.

"We are going to miss him early on," Campbell said. "But we will survive, and his return will only make us that much stronger."

Getting a healthy Howard back at the break will be a unique twist for Campbell and the Tigers, who in past years have been devastated by injuries. Last season was no different, as starting forward Bailey Johnston went down in January with a stress fracture. Key reserve Jacob Hull also was lost for the year with an injury.

The return of a healthy Johnston will solidify the post situation for the Tigers. He averaged 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. Sophomore Zach Doubet will step into a key resrve roll after forward Will McRobert was injured in the football season finale and will miss the basketball season.

Jacob Blessing returns to man the point guard position. He averaged just under eight points a game and led the Tigers with 30 made three-pointers.

"Jacob and Cordie provide us two perimeter scores," Campbell said, adding that Cowell has improved his three-point shooting which should only add to his ability to create off the dribble as teams will have to honor the outside shot on defense.

"I think we have a very good behind on offense," Campbell said. "We should be very balanced, meaning the opposing defense will not be able to key on one player trying to stop us."

Scoring opportunities will also be opened up by the team's defense.

"Our perimeter defense was one of the high points of our summer success," Campbell said. "We have a lot of energy on the defensive end and that is going to generate some easy scoring opportunities. We have not been good creating transition points since I've been here. I look for that to change this year."

With a faster-paced game and extra energy being exerted on the defensive end, the Tigers will lean on a solid bench, led by juniors Kyler Burkhiser and Jacob Hull. Burkhiser was the team's second leading rebounder last year while playing guard and forward. He saw starting duty last year and could be called upon to fill Howard's starting role. Hull was tops on the team, hitting 54% of his three-point attempts in 12 varsity contests.

Zach Doubet saw limited varsity action as a freshman, but will be a key contributor off the bench along with fellow sophomores Caleb Doubet and Jade Holt.

The depth doesn't end there. Campbell reported 23 players on the varsity and junior varsity rosters.

"I think I had 15 kids come out my first season, so this is a big numbers boost," Campbell said. "It is going to be tough finding minutes for everyone but we are not complaining. We have seen some excellent competition, as kids that are used to playing, are now having to fight for time. They know they are going to have to work hard and hustle every chance they get to try and earn their playing time."

After Putnam County dominated the Tri-Rivers Conference last season, the league should see more parity in 2013-14. The Midgets graduated their top three scorers, which may bring Putnam County back to the pack. Knox County returns Royce Poor and Donovan Edwards giving them a leg up on the competition, but a surprising North Shelby squad returns similar strength. Milan and Schuyler County will look to expand upon rebuilding seasons a year ago to take a step up in the standings.

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