SYLACAUGA -- Rivalries in high school often are marked with passion but also a deep-rooted mutual respect between the teams involved.
The boys basketball showdown between Childersburg (4-2) and Sylacauga (5-1) Friday night at 7:30 certainly is no different.
While new Tigers head coach Johnny Johnson may be a different face roaming courtside, Sylacauga head coach Will Copeland said he anticipates tonight’s home matchup will be the first of another series of intense games for his Aggies squad.
“No matter who the coach is, it’s always going to be a rivalry,” Copeland said. “We just happen to be the coaches right now who are a part of it. It’s a big rivalry in all sports and basketball as well. We’re going against a good team that has a lot of guys back from their Final Four run last year. We know we’re going to have to bring our A-game to have a chance ...
“We’re always looking at film and looking at ourselves on what we’ve got to do as a basketball team to try and get better for our area games that are coming up. Playing good teams like Childersburg, Talladega and the teams that are on our schedule will make us better and get us ready for those area games … We know we have our hands full against a solid Childersburg team.”
Sylacauga and Childersburg met three times in the 2015-16 season in games decided by two points or less. The Aggies fell at home 71-70 and 71-69 at Childersburg but defeated the Tigers 66-65 for the Talladega County Tournament championship at Lincoln.
Johnson said his team is excited and ready for the first meeting of the season between the teams.
“Coach Copeland does a great job with them, so the mindset is knowing they’ve got a brand new gym and we’re coming down,” he said. “They probably already know it's been two years since they’ve beat us on their own court, so the mindset going in for us is playing Childersburg basketball, trying to do the things we do, get a win, contain the great players they’ve got and just go play.”
For the Aggies, Copeland said he’s blessed to have plenty of leadership from point guard Khalil Pope and several others who’ve returned to the team.
“(Pope) started off and had a bad game, but after that, he has stepped up in his leadership role and he’s someone we can put the ball in his hands,” Copeland said. “(Tuesday) night, he was 16-of-20 from the free-throw line and he’s had some games this year where he’s gotten to the line and made some shots to help us win games.
“Darian Garrett and Jasade Smith are our other two guards who have played well and shot well. We told them the other day if they work hard in practice, they can improve so much. That’s what we’re getting from those two.”
He added practice at times has been an area the Aggies need to improve.
“Our guys right now have a belief at times that there’s a switch that you turn on,” he said. “We’re trying to overcome that and get them to realize that to get better at anything in life, you have to work at it on a day-by-day basis.”
Johnson said the Tigers -- who also had a strong performance in holiday tournament action, going 2-1 in the North Shelby Tip-Off Classic -- will rely on senior Syheem Young to keep the pace he’s set for the season.
“Sy’s running the team -- he’s the point guard, so we expect a lot of him because he has the ball in his hands a lot,” Johnson said. “The last couple of ballgames, he’s been averaging 20 points a game. We want him to come in, control the offense and keep us level-headed.
“Cam’s (Morris) been having a big year for us inside. I think we can get some matchup problems with him. He’s big, quick, (has) great hands and he has a soft (touch) around the rim.
“I know (Copeland) has some great guys, too. He’s got Garrett, (Malik) Crawford and Pope at the point, so it’s going to be a tough matchup for us trying to contain his guys. So both ways, it’s going to be a great game trying to contain each other.”