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Justin Raymond is ‘on point’ for Panthers’ D

Portal faces WCHS in second round

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Justin Raymond is ‘on point’ for Panthers’ D

Portal guard Justin Raymond, 11, defends Seminole County's Tavius Williams during the first round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs Friday. The Panthers won, 75-66.

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers (27-1) are set to play No. 3 seed Wilcox County tonight in the Sweet 16 of the GHSA Class A state playoffs.
    The Panthers cruised through the Region 3-A Tournament, holding Calvary Day’s leading scorer to just 10 points in the semifinals and shutting down Emanuel County’s Washaun Ealey, who had just four points, in the region championship.
    When PHS knocked off Seminole County Saturday in the first round of state, it took the same approach against Tavis Williams, the leading scorer for the Indians.
    When the Panthers come up against a team with a dominating offensive player, it is Justin Raymond’s job to shut him down.
    “Justin has been playing for me for four years,” said PHS coach Jeff Brannen. “He’s gotten better each year and he’s a big part of this team. I think he’s more the glue that holds us together on the defensive end.     “Any time you can go out there and contain players that average 18-20 points a game and hold them under doubles, or maybe 10-12 points, he’s doing his job. The other players just feed off of him. When he turns his D up, the other players turn their D up.”
    A lot of the success that Portal has had can be attributed to the specific roles each player has when on the court. Assaulting teams with an array of scorers, the Panthers have the luxury of putting guys on the floor to serve a specific purpose.
     “Justin sets the tone on the defensive end,” said Brannen. “We put him against the best wing player that teams have. … He can play solid defense. His game is to get steals and get out there on the court and make layups.”
    Raymond is happy to do his part.
    “Defense isn’t a problem for me,” said the senior guard, “as long as I’m in the game. I know I like playing defense. I don’t look to score, because there’s people other then me on the team that can score. I can sit back and play defense. When we play big teams, (I guard the best scorer) on the team. That’s what I like — to have the competition. It’s just fun to go out there and do.”
    That hasn’t stopped him from contributing on the offensive side of the hardwood.
    “The only time I score is when it’s wide open,” Raymond said. “I don’t try to be selfish. I just play my role.”
    Portal attacks with a guard-based offense that features David Buchannon running the point and Mario Farris — who scored his 1,000th career point in Friday’s 75-66 win over Seminole — in the post.
    It is the versatility of everyone else on the floor that has made the Panther offense so hard to stop for opposing teams. With guys like Shane Reese who can bring the ball up the floor and also make things happen underneath, PHS can constantly change its look.
    Raymond is another multitasker.
    “Justin is versatile,” Brannen said. “He can dribble the ball. He can run the point (and) he can also post up. We haven’t played him as much in the post as we did (during the 2006-07 season). He can go down in the post too and score and play defense.”
    It’s easy to see why the Panthers have been so good, and Raymond attributes the team’s success to December’s loss — the only blemish of the season.   
    “The season’s been pretty good,” said Raymond. “We only lost one game (against West Laurens in a Christmas tournament). Ever since then — that loss — we’ve been more focused, playing together as a team.”
    Brannen agrees that the notion of teamwork has had a lot to do with the success of the 2007-08 Panthers. He has stressed the importance of each player doing his part, and Raymond is no exception.
    “It’s just been a blessing to coach him for four years,” said Brannen. “This day and time, most players want to go out and shoot 3’s and want to dunk the ball. He doesn’t care anything about scoring. He’d rather play rebound and play defense than anything.”
    Raymond and the No. 1 seed Panthers continue the quest for a championship tonight in Portal against Wilcox County, a team to which Portal is no stranger. PHS knocked them off in the 2007 state playoffs 73-71.
    Brannen, however, is not concerned with the past.
    “We’ve just got to do what we do,” Brannen said. “We can’t go out and worry about other teams, because I think if we play the style of game we’re capable of playing, teams are going to have to make adjustments to us.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.
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