Sylacauga High School’s boys basketball team recently wrapped up its summer exhibition schedule.
According to Aggies head coach Will Copeland, the results were not pretty for a squad coming off a 26-win season and a Class 5A Final Four appearance.
Copeland said his team had a “pretty bad” summer in play dates at Ramsay, Hoover, Oxford, Birmingham-Southern and one at home. The Aggies exited the summer with a 4-8 record.
“It just wasn’t a good summer,” he said. “We’ve got guys coming back from last year and we’ve got a good nucleus of (junior varsity) kids coming back. Right now, it’s just not working out. We’re in the gym, we’re in the weight room and we’re working as hard as we can, (Assistant) Coach (Joel) Jones and I, to get this fixed.”
He added while summer exhibition games don’t count against the Aggies, his team still has plenty to work on moving forward.
“Right now, we’ve just got a lot of chemistry issues, ‘What’s my role?’ issues and ‘Am I giving it everything I’ve got on the floor?’ issues,” Copeland said. “It’s good to identify the problem, and we’ve just got to work hard to get it fixed.”
Copeland said his players had to learn early in the summer where to focus their priorities, and that experience provided lessons to help improve heading into the winter.
“The first game we played was against Hoover,” he said. “I could just tell in warmups and (when we were) walking out on the floor that we were worried about what we looked (like), how our shoes looked and all that. We walked out on the floor, and Hoover beat us 20-5.
“That just goes to show you no matter what you did the year before, it means absolutely nothing when you start all over again … I hope they realize that, and I think it’s one thing we’re talking about as a whole, ‘This is what’s wrong with this person, and this is what needs to be done to fix it,’ but we don’t talk a lot about what we do with somebody who has had success (and) how we handle that success … Something we’ve got to work on is handling that success and get back to work like we did last year. That’s something we’ve go to fix.”
Copeland added, however, that his team showed some positives during the stretch of summer games when his players rotating in and out were able to get into a rhythm.
“There were times in which the games we were playing were exciting,” he said. “We didn’t play any slouches this summer. We were playing top-notch schools, and there were times in which we were getting after these top-notch schools, and it was exciting basketball. That was a positive. ... The potential is there, and it showed at times during the summer, (but) there were times in which it was lacking.”
Center Malik Crawford and guard Darian Garrett return for the upcoming 2017-18 season, but the Aggies must figure out who will step up and fill the shoes of a quintet of seniors who contributed to the team’s successes less than four months ago.
“Khalil Pope was our three-year starter at point guard,” Copeland said. “We miss him and we miss the energy De’Onte (Smith) gave us coming off the bench. Jasade Smith was a knockdown shooter. Jasade could come over here and knock down a 3. Right now, especially this summer, we didn’t have that ...
“It’s something that can be fixed with enough work if you put it in (at) the gym, but we’re going to miss those guys. Derrick Carter, who rebounded for us, and Zyion Hughes, who would come off the bench for us -- we’re going to miss all our seniors, and those guys are going to be tough to replace.”
Copeland said the Aggies have tried a couple players from the junior varsity in Pope’s old position, including Ty Trammell and Malik Powell.
“We tried to give everybody a chance this summer to show what (they’ve) got, and as of now, we just don’t have that person like Khalil to step up and be that leader on the floor,” Copeland said. “Like I said before, it’s sometimes good this early to identify it. Everything’s not always rosy and beautiful, and sometimes you’ve got to work to try and fix it. That’s what we aim to do.”
With a team stacked with depth and players eager for playing time, Copeland said the evaluation for who gets the starting nod comes down to a simple question.
“The biggest question we have of every kid that walks out on that floor is, ‘What are you doing for us? Are you playing defense? Are you hustling, rebounding or scoring? What are you doing while you’re out there?’” he said. “With guys on the bench licking their chops to go out there, you’re going to have to produce or else we’re going to have to find someone else to do it.
“Whether you played in the Final Four last year or you’re a senior, it doesn’t really matter. You’re going to have to produce, and that’s what life is -- any time you have a job or you’re at home and have a family, you’re going to have to answer that question, ‘What are you actually doing?’ These kids are learning that through basketball.”