WINTERBORO - Area hoop teams gathered at Winterboro High School for a summer play date last Thursday to get the first look at their teams competing against other quality competition.

The Talladega County Central Lady Fighting Tigers are using the summer to develop low post players to complement their core of talented backcourt players.

“It was a good outing,” TC Central head coach Robert Duncan said. “We got a chance to try a lot of things. We are really focusing a lot on our post play this summer. We know we have Curteria Collins coming back down there, but we are trying to develop our younger girls with a little more length to give us some minutes in the low post.  We are starting to put some other pieces in place to take us to the next level. We feel like we got some good minutes from an upcoming 5-foot-11 freshman, Cameryn McInnis, who transferred in last year, and she will be eligible to help us this year. I feel good about the minutes she got. Also, Ta’Raven Swain is a senior who has been with us a couple of years, but she hasn’t played a lot of minutes. She has shown a lot of energy that I believe will be able to help us in spots this upcoming season.”

 The Lady Fighting Tigers went 3-0 during the play date, with a pair of wins over Saks and a win over Childersburg. Duncan said he told his players that he wanted them to focus on doing what they have to do to win the game.

“I think we came in with a little bit more basketball mindset today. Losing can be just as contagious as winning, even in a play date. You want to try to do your best every outing.”

Duncan said he was proud of what he saw from his older players during their second of back-to-back games against Saks.

“In one of the Saks games, I started my younger girls just for them to get some floor time,” Duncan said. “We were down by 10, and when we did put our regulars in there, they were able to come back and pull it off, which says a lot about their character. Even though they were tired, they still came back and pulled it off. We played games back-to-back, and I thought we showed a lot of character to be able to fight back and pull it off.”

For the past two seasons, the Winterboro Lady Bulldogs have been one of the best teams in Class 1A. Last season, Winterboro finished with its second straight 20-win season and third straight trip to the Class 1A Central Regional Tournament. Graduation hurt the Lady Bulldogs, as they lost their all-time leading scorer and finalist for the 1A Player of the Year, Jasmine Richardson. Winterboro head coach Sheroderick Smith believes this will be the first time his team has had to rebuild since the 2008-2009 season.

“I can honestly say I haven’t seen a Winterboro girls’ team like this since my first year,” Smith said. “You want to be involved in the youth in order to face a situation such as attrition and graduation. We definitely took a step off at experience, role- and talent-wise, so it is going to be a rebuilding year for us.”

Developing elementary students is one thing that Smith believes will help his team reload instead of rebuild.

“Really, you have to reach out and start developing your third, fourth and fifth grade, so you won’t have so many talent dips,” Smith said. “If you are at a basketball school, you are supposed to compete year in and year out. I am going to have to reinstall my patience and just rebuild. I have to understand that we have girls that haven’t played in a while; we have girls that just need to play, so the patience is there.”

Winterboro went 0-3 during the play date last week. Smith said the plan for the rest of the summer is for his older players to continue to work on their individual games and for the younger players to get as much playing time as they can.

“The rest of the summer is going to be a split,” Smith said. “I want my older players to get better individually and I want my younger girls to keep playing. We are still going to work out and work on individual stuff. We are still going to work on agility to get them moving better. I want to raise their basketball IQ as much as I can. I would really like to be in a situation where we surprise people at the end of February.”