It’s another typical basketball season for the Piedmont boys. Finish up a long run into the football playoffs on a Friday, have two shoot-around sessions over the weekend, practice on Monday and play Tuesday.
For the first time in memory, coach Tommy Lewis does not have a returning starter. When the Bulldogs play a ‘B’ team game, which will be most nights, there will typically be eight varsity players.
Lee Stanley is the lone senior. Juniors are T.J. Fairs, DeAngelo (Delo) Foster, Kaedon Jenkins, Carl Myers and Logan Pruitt. Silas Thompson is a sophomore and Ryley Kirk is a freshman. Pruitt just returned to unrestricted activity after sustaining an injury in football and Myers is still recovering from a football injury.
On some occasions, sophomore Malachi Jackson, freshmen Tavian Alexander, Jakari Foster, Elijah Johnson and Sean Smith and seventh-grader Alex Odam will play with the varsity.
Once again, Lewis and assistant coach Matt Glover have juggled the original schedule to fit a 20-game regular season into the number of weeks available. Lewis said Tuesday that he knows a number of coaches won’t begin basketball without two full weeks of practice and conditioning.
Lewis believes that players prefer to play their way into basketball shape rather than practice. He feels students who play both football and basketball can stay focused on football for as long as necessary because it is a given that Piedmont will play 20 basketball games plus tournaments no matter how long football may continue in the playoffs.
“They know we have a commitment,” Lewis said. “We’re not going to shorten our season just because you do well in your sport. Do well in your sport. Then we’re going to work around you.”
The 2017-18 season opened at Hokes Bluff on Dec. 5 with a 54-44 win over the Eagles. The Bulldogs led 29-15 at halftime. Hokes Bluff won the third quarter 15-6 but Piedmont outscored the home team 19-14 in the fourth. Thompson and Kirk each scored eight points in the fourth to help fend off the Eagles.
Kirk had a pair of 3-point baskets in the fourth and four treys for the game en route to 18 points. Thompson finished with 11 points. Fairs netted two 3-pointers and scored 10 points. Delo Foster had seven points. Stanley was 3-for-4 at the free throw line and scored five points. Jenkins added a free throw in the fourth quarter.
Two days after their win at Hokes Bluff, the Bulldogs traveled to play Class 5A Clay Central and lost 60-28. The Volunteers led 28-13 at halftime but eight missed free throws by the Bulldogs made the first half difficult. Kirk had a pair of treys and nine points overall. Thompson scored seven points. Fairs finished with five points, Delo Foster four and Stanley three.
Friday’s scheduled game at Pleasant Valley was postponed because of the heavy snowfall. It has been reset for Jan. 3.
The Bulldogs returned to the court Monday at Saks. It was the first game of the season for the Wildcats. Based on returning players, Lewis expected Saks to be very similar to Clay Central in style and personnel and worried how the Bulldogs would respond. Although the Wildcats eventually won 56-53, Lewis was pleased with Piedmont’s effort.
“They reacted really well, played hard from the outset,” he said Tuesday.
The Bulldogs opened in a zone defense but quickly switched to man-to-man when Saks came out hot and netted four 3-point shots early in the first quarter.
“That was the first time they played man. I thought they did really well in their man. Starting zone was on me,” Lewis said.
Trailing 30-25 at halftime, two 3-pointers by Kirk helped the Bulldogs rally in the third quarter. With 4:05 still to play in the third, a trey by Jenkins from the right corner put Piedmont ahead 38-37.
Stanley’s two free throws broke a 38-38 tie and a mid-range jumper by Kirk earned the Bulldogs a 42-40 lead when the third quarter closed.
In the fourth, the game was tied three times and the lead changed hands on five occasions but Piedmont never led by more than two points, not an enviable position in another team’s gym.
“I thought they played well enough to win and they played smart enough to win,” Lewis said of his Bulldogs. “I just stuck my nose in there a couple of times and messed it up. I think the zone got them in a little bit of a hole early on. They had to dig out of the hole.”
Kirk ended with 14 points. Fairs scored 11 points. Thompson contributed 10 points and nine rebounds. Stanley tallied eight points and snared seven boards. Jenkins had six points. Delo Foster finished with four points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Lewis said the Bulldogs would work on their man defense ahead of Thursday’s Class 3A, Area 10 opener at Glencoe. White Plains comes to Piedmont on Friday and the Bulldogs host Haralson County (Ga.) on Saturday.