Cougars return lots of experienceBy ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
Entering his 44th season of coaching high school basketball, Newton County coach Steve Harber has seen plenty of the good and bad.
This year, Harber brings back an experienced group of players that he hopes can make a trip to Jackson before it’s over with.
“This is a really good bunch of kids,” Harber said. “And they are a smart bunch of kids. They are smart in the classroom and most of them are on honor roll. We’ve got a lot of experience back. These kids have played a lot of basketball. We played about 25 games this summer and looked good at times.”
The Cougars bring back eight seniors and four starters. Leading the way is senior guard Jaylin Nicholson, who is committed to play at East Central and is expected to sign soon. He is joined by senior point guard Yunish Billy, post player Chris Mulford and Peyton Reeves, who all started at times last year.
Harber said the fifth spot is up for grabs with several players in the mix. Harber said he is looking for A.J. Snapp, Jereall Taylor, Chris Thomas, Will McElhenney and Jarius Huddleston to all compete for playing time as well as build depth for the bench.
“We’ve got a tough schedule and a tough district,” Harber said. “It’s probably one of the most competitive schedules I’ve played. The main objective for us is to build some depth. I thought our lack of depth hurt us last year. We played Florence in the second round of the playoffs and led the entire game and had three players foul out and lost the game. So we play about nine or 10 games here early and I’m looking to build some depth. And we’ve had some injuries early so some of those guys will have to play early.”
On the other side of the gym, the Lady Cougars will have a mix of experience and youth as they try to build on last year’s 22-8 season under veteran coach Cory Cleveland.
“We have some players coming back but we are going to be very young,” Cleveland said. “We lost four seniors that contributed a lot last years. We’ve got some players back and will be bigger in the post than we have been but we’ve got to get some other kids to step up and play this year who have never really had to play varsity games before.”
Senior point guard Sharandon Isom returns at the point guard position while Tiffany Wilson and Chelsea Giles will also return from last year. Junior Alana McMullan will be back after missing all of last year with a knee injury and is expected to fill one of the starting spots. It’s the other starting spot that has Cleveland worried.
“I have a lot of kids that have never had to play in a high school game,” Cleveland said. “I think we will be competitive and be right there in every game. We just have to build some depth early. Getting Alana McMullan back will be a huge lift for us. She will give us a lot of size in the post. Our post play should be a lot stronger than it has been. Both Alana and Tiffany can rebound and score. And Giles played a lot of post for me last year but will have to play guard for us this year. I’ve got a lot of kids on the bench that are all about the same and I just need a few of them to step up and be able to play for us this year.”
Newton County was set to open play this week with a contest at Morton on Tuesday and Friday at Kemper County.
NCHS boys 47, Morton 45
Newton County’s Jaylin Nicholson showed everybody at Morton why he signed with East Central Community College.
With the game tied and Morton holding the ball for the last shot, Nicholson stole the ball and drove the length of the court, throwing down a thunderous dunk to give the Cougars a 47-45 win in the season opener.
Newton County now has two home games this week as they will host Forest on Tuesday in a big contest and will host county rival Union on Friday night.
“Anytime you beat Morton at Morton, it’s a good win,” Harber said. “We had to move some kids around and have some kids out. But we played well enough to win. We’ve got a lot of things to work on but overall, I was pleased with the effort. I thought we rebounded the ball well and that was probably the difference in the game. I don’t think we shot the ball as well as we should but it’s the first game. I was just tickled to come away with a win.”
The Cougars led for the majority of the game as they built an 11-5 lead in the first period and led 25-17 at the half. But Morton started to fight back in the second half as they outscored County 14-12 in the third and 14-10 in the fourth.
Morton girls 62, NCHS 37
Morton built an early lead and cruised to a 25-point win on Tuesday night.
Sharandon Isom led County with 18 points while Tiffany Wilson added nine points.