By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In the first three years that Grant Pate was the head coach of the Tupelo Golden Wave, he could always put Deontaye Ewing, Chris Brooks and Shane Butler on the court.
The substantial contribution of that trio helped Pate and the Wave to a 28-4 record last season, and an overtime loss away from playing in the state tournament.
The core of Tupelo’s success might have graduated, but Pate feels his 2011-12 edition of the Wave might have just reloaded instead of being in a rebuilding mode.
“We have some players who are working hard,” said Pate, who had a jaw-dropping 84 players show up for tryouts. “And we have some seniors who are trying to learn the leadership role, and that takes time to develop.”
Dajon Reno, who burst off the bench early last season to become a consistent threat, and slick guard Rashon Coleman, are two seniors who will be counted on early. Pate is also looking forward to the leadership of Chaz Jones and Josh Hamilton once football season is over.
Also battling for early playing time will be seniors Jordan Sadler and Devonta Fields, and juniors Jordan Garmon and Alex Foster. Pate also reports having the largest sophomore group he’s ever had, with J.J. Ashby, Carter Clayton, Sean Watkins and Rashad Ruff, along with freshman Antonio Green vying for court time.
“Early in the year, we’re really going to have to pick up our defense,” Pate said. “It will take us some time to develop rhythm on defense.”
LADY WAVE YOUNG
Developing leadership is also a situation first-year Lady Wave head coach Matt Justice finds himself in.
Antoinette Riddle and Faith Cook are the only two seniors on a varsity roster that includes seven freshmen, and Justice expects to install these two players in the starting lineup right away.
“With seven freshmen on the roster, we’ll be depending on them to give us minutes right away,” said Justice, who replaced Stephanie Murphy. “I want to play four quarters at a high intensity, so we’ll have to be deeper than we were last year.”
Justice is looking at three freshmen as potential starters, beginning with Jaleigha Polk, who saw action in the last couple of weeks last season, plus the playoffs.
The other two are Marqueesha Hoskins and Braxton Thomas, with junior Casey Marshall and sophomore Bre Jernigan expected to provide a spark for the Lady Wave.
“We have to get back to the basics of what Tupelo basketball is,” Justice said. “Being a smaller team, we’ll have to push it, get the ball up and down the floor.”
The Wave and Lady Wave, 18-13 last year, open their season Saturday hosting the Tupelo Smoothie King Classic, a day-long tournament.