Never let it be said that Jackson County’s hoops team shied away from a little pre-dawn work.
Actually, they welcomed it.
Panther players came in at 6 a.m. three days a week the entire month of October for voluntary, unsupervised workouts just to prep for this season.
“Which I just think speaks volumes for our kids,” fourth-year coach Britt Beaver said. “It’s tough to get a high school kid to get out of bed to be at school at 8 a.m.”
The early-to-rise Panthers are coming off a five-win campaign in 2009-2010, in which they lost by an average of seven points a year ago.
With all the hard work and experience now in Beaver’s system, this year’s Panthers hope those games start going their way in 2010-2011.
“We’re right there,” Beaver said. “We’re just really hoping (this season), because every year we’ve inched closer and closer, we’re just hoping we can round that corner this year.”
The Panthers, who start the season Saturday at Union County, lost three starters last year, but do return several components from a season ago.
Sure-handed senior Alex Crawford, who Beaver said has “gotten better every year,” is the ideal game manager at point guard. Meanwhile Jarvis Shaw, also a senior, is a shooting guard who brings “a ton of speed” and a smooth shot to the court, according Beaver. At 6’4,” senior Ben Weaver is Jackson County’s only true post presence and brings a good skill set to the position. Logan Smith, another senior shooting guard who Beaver said “turned a corner in the preseason,” could provide a spark with his shooting.
Other players in the mix are senior guard Nick Oney, a good spot-up shooter and defender; junior transfer Kolin Zimmer, a good long-range shooter who comes to Jackson County via Ohio; and Jared Scott, a junior who brings strength to the post.
“They’ll all fight it out for the top five spots,” Beaver said.
Beaver doesn’t expect one dominant scorer to emerge night-in-and night out, but rather an offense-by-committee for the Panthers as Jackson County will rely on a methodical half court attack to slow the pace of the game.
“We don’t run,” Beaver said. “We play in the half court … We run disciplined offensive sets. We want to manage the game because we’re just not going to out-athlete these teams that we’re playing. But I think we can outsmart them.”
But this year’s Panthers, especially with Shaw’s speed, have the potential to be a little more up-tempo than in the past if needed.
“We’ve played pretty disciplined for now three years, and this is the one year I think we can push it a little bit,” Beaver said.
The Panthers find themselves in new surroundings this year.
Jackson County dropped from Region 8-AAA to Region 8-AA, but so did Region 8-AAA champion Elbert County and 8-AAA runner up Hart County.
So relocating to Region 8-AA did Jackson County no favors.
“I don’t look at our schedule as being any easier,” Beaver said. “As if the region schedule is not tough enough, everything I scheduled that’s not a region game is a Class AAAA or Class AAA school. So we don’t have a game on our schedule, unfortunately, that’s going to be an easy game.”
But Beaver, entering his fourth year, hopes this season can be the difference maker for the program and for the seniors who have been with him his entire time at Jackson County. The coach believes a foundation has been established. It’s just a matter of the wins materializing.
“These are the kids we started with,” Beaver said. “All that we’ve tried to do … it’s been a stable program, we’ve not changed. It’s been the same coaches. We’ve added each year to the packages. We’ve not changed what we’ve done. Man, it would be nice to see us really put it together.”