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Portal ready for a brand new basketball season

    PORTAL — When attending a Portal basketball game this season, picking up a game program will be a necessity.
    New faces crowd the roster after the departure of nine seniors from last season’s squad, but the Panthers are ready to get the 2010-11 campaign underway with the same optimism that they carry into each new season.
    “There’s definitely some rebuilding that needs to be done,” said Portal coach Jeff Brannen. “We lost some key players and we have a very young team, but we also have high expectations for ourselves and we believe that we can continue to succeed.”
    Portal enters the season with just two starters returning from last year.
    Senior Jamie Hagins can provide solid scoring from the outside while sophomore Cory Reese – who developed quickly in his freshman season – will be a force in the paint.
    Jordan Buchannon is the only other senior on the roster and will combine with Hagins and Reese to provide leadership for the young squad.
    “We’re asking a lot of them,” said Brannen. “We need them to step up, and they’ve worked hard during the offseason to become better leaders.”
    In all, five sophomores and freshmen will compete with Portal’s varsity squad this season. Even some of the juniors that will suit up for the Panthers will be playing at the varsity level for the first time, but Brannen is confident that they will all fit in.
    “It’s a lot of new guys, but all of them have shown that they can win,” said Brannen. “Some of them are players that led our JV last year and a lot of the younger guys were part of our middle school team that has had a lot of success in the last few years.”
    Another issue that Portal will have to cope with is its lack of size.   
    Even with a lot of talent, a roster full of underclassmen means that the Panthers will often have to take the floor with a team that is less physically mature than their opponents.
    Fortunately for Portal, that plays right into its style.
    “We’re not blessed with the advantage of a lot of height, but that’s OK,” said Brannen. “We like to run a lot of up tempo in our game. We’ll run the floor and try to keep things sped up so that being smaller won’t be a disadvantage.”
    This season, Portal aims to return to the state playoffs after last year saw the Panthers miss out on the postseason for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
    Although Region 3-A is mostly unchanged — the departure of Telfair County is the only addition or subtraction — Portal will have a much different road through its schedule.
    The Panthers have switched from the ‘A’ sub-region — which includes all of the Savannah area schools and defending region champion Claxton — to the ‘B’ sub-region. The competition will still be stiff, but the significant reduction in travel should help Portal during the heart of the season when two or three games are on the schedule each week.
    The biggest key to success for Portal will be how fast this new group can come together.
    Even as one of the smallest schools in the state, Portal has proven to be a perennial force on the hardwood, and the Panthers are confident that they can reload instead of rebuild.
    “I’m just looking for some chemistry to develop in the first few games,” said Brannen. “We played a lot in the summer and looked good, but it’s a little different once the season starts.
    “I think we can improve much faster once everyone is comfortable with each other. We always have very high expectations of ourselves and what we can accomplish. We would love to win our sub-region and the region title. We know those are big goals, but we love to strive for them.”
    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.