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New look, same Claxton Tigers

New look, same Claxton Tigers

New look, same Claxton Tigers

Claxton's Xavier Slater battles Dooly...

    CLAXTON — When the Claxton Tigers were bounced in the first round of last season’s Class A state basketball playoffs, it looked like the dream was over.
    After compiling its best record in almost two decades, the Tigers bid farewell to 10 players from last season’s squad heading into the 2010-11 campaign.
    Many figured that it would take at least a few more seasons for head coach Eric Bluestein to get his team back on track, but with five wins in their first six games, the new-look Tigers are picking up right where they left off.
    “Honestly, I’m a little surprised that we have come out and played so well so early,” said Bluestein. “We lost a lot of new guys, but we aren’t letting that bother us. If we take the mentality that this is just a rebuilding year, then that’s how we’re going to play. I think that we can compete now.”
    It is certainly a tall task to replace four starters from last season’s 25-3 squad, but a handful of Tigers have emerged to pick up the slack.
    Senior Rashod Lovett has embraced a bigger role this season and is leading Claxton in scoring while junior LeBron Glover — whose last second jumper clinched a Claxton win in last spring’s Region 3-A championship game — has also quickly become a team leader.
    Others, such as Trey Hines, Chakeez Love, Zenas Moore and Tevin Valentine have risen from last year’s junior varsity squad and are adding production in their first minutes at the varsity level.
    “A lot of these guys had to wait their turn,” said Bluestein. “They saw what last year’s team was able to accomplish, and they saw what it took to get to that level. I think that now, they feel responsible for continuing the success.”
    While Claxton’s wins are coming along at the same rapid pace, the manner in which it is achieving them has changed.
    Last season, the Tigers relied on Region 3-A’s stingiest defense and was able to wear down opponents with a fast-paced transition game as a regular rotation of 10-12 players saw significant minutes.
    This season, Claxton is operating with a smaller core of seven or eight main players. The Tigers now operate out of more half-court sets, but are still explosive.
    “This year, we’re running a dribble-drive offense,” said Bluestein. “We still play fast, but it’s coming off of sets. We’re a little undersized, but we use the offense to take advantage of our quickness.”
    Even without the high-flying style of last season’s squad, Claxton is averaging 64 points per game — good for second in the region.
    “We’re really playing well as a team,” said Bluestein. “We have a couple of guys in Rashod and LeBron that can take guys one-on-one, but we aren’t really a team of superstars. Everyone knows that we have to work together to get things done on the court.”
    The Tigers’ fast start has been impressive — four of their five wins have come against competition from higher classifications — but there is still a long way to go if Claxton is to defend its region title.
    Region 3-A is packed with senior-laden teams that have playoff experience, and Claxton’s sub-region foe Calvary Day has only lost one key contributor off of the team that the Tigers defeated for the region championship.
    Metter, Portal, Savannah Country Day and Montgomery County also have high hopes of being one of the four teams from the region to advance to the state playoffs in March, but the Tigers are determined to stay at the top after working so hard to get there.
    “We know it’s a tough road,” said Bluestein. “There are a lot of quality teams out there and every win will be a tough one to get. We still have some room to grow with our team, so hopefully we can get some things straightened out early on and then go compete in region play.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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