At the fifth annual Talladega County High School Basketball Media on Tuesday, coaches and players from boys teams representing Sylacauga and Childersburg fielded questions from local media regarding the 2019-20 season.
The teams will face off tonight at 8 at Childersburg.
Both programs will experience challenges on their respective journeys. The Aggies, who won the Class 5A state championship to cap the 2017-18 campaign, will fight to get back to the Final Four after falling to Ramsay 59-58 in the 2019 Southeast Regional Tournament final at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery.
“I’m coming into an unbelievable opportunity to run a system that these kids kind of already know,” first-year Sylacauga head coach Kent Fullington said. “They’re used to playing fast, and it’s a rich tradition of going to regional finals, going to the Final Four and winning state championships.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. This has just been a great experience. Everybody has been so supportive, and the boys have worked so hard. That’s kind of what I want. I want our teams to always be the hardest-working teams in the state.”
Shannon Grant, who led the Aggies with 21 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes against the Rams, said he used that one-point loss to push himself as he prepared for the upcoming season.
“It just motivated me, just seeing my teammates like that last year,” he said. “We knew that it was our game to win. We should have been going to Birmingham, but this year, I know for a fact that I’m going to give everything I’ve got to make sure that we do go there.”
Fullington inherited a team that graduated 10 seniors, but he said he’s excited about his younger players who will step up to fill the gaps.
“We lost essentially everyone from the team last year, other than Shannon,” Fullington said. “It really makes it fun because we’ve got a bunch of hungry juniors.
“We’ve got Josiah Graham. He’s kind of the crazy guy in our press. He leads it and he goes fast.
“We’ve also got a guy who should be here right now, but he’s under the weather … Crews Proctor. He’s an unbelievable guard who really pushes it and shoots it well from the outside.
“We’ve got another senior, Desmond Armour, who is an unbelievable defender with good character, a great leader on the floor and shoots it from the outside really well also.
“I could go down the list, but we have up to 15 to 16 guys who are ready to just get in there and play their tails off for us.”
Childersburg will look to get back into the 4A Southeast Regional Tournament after missing that mark a year ago, but it will do so without most of its starters from 2018-19.
The Tigers return nine seniors from last year’s squad, but the group hasn’t seen much court action during its time on the varsity.
“We’ve got to get more game experience,” Tigers head coach Johnny Johnson said Tuesday. “Thursday night against Ben Russell, we came out with a lot of energy that night. Friday night against Vincent, we didn’t bring it, so we’ve got to get more game experience, learn what to do on the court and how to play defense on the court. They’ve been working hard, but you can’t beat that game experience.”
Johnson said despite the inexperience, the goals for his team aren’t going to change.
“Our goal right now is to get to Birmingham,” he said. “To get to Birmingham, you have to win your area, win your sub-regional and win the regional (tournament). That’s the goal right now, and I think we’re capable of putting that together to meet that goal.”
Among the players Childersburg returns is senior guard Isaac Celestine, who came off the bench last season and produced from the perimeter for the Tigers. Johnson said he’ll play a similar role this season.
“Now, teams know about what he can do, so now, he’s got to prepare himself, come off the screens and be ready to shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “Thursday and Friday night, he came off the bench again and hit some big shots. That’s what we expect him to do every time he hits the floor.”