After a longer offseason than most years in recent memory, the boys and girls of Statesboro basketball are ready to retake the court.
Last season, Blue Devil fans witnessed a disappointing and strange winter as both the boys and girls squads failed to make the postseason after being knocked out early in their respective region tournaments.
Both teams have plenty of talent returning this time around and will hope to make the 2014-15 campaign last a bit longer.
For the boys, a lot will fall on just one returning starter.
Michael Soloman cracked the starting five as a sophomore last season and provided some much-needed height for the perennially undersized Devils. This season, he’ll be asked to once again patrol the paint while sprinting from baseline to baseline in Statesboro’s up-tempo system.
“I think we’re ready for the challenge,” Soloman said. “I think we’re coming together pretty well. We’re going to need to be at our best to win like we want because there are some good teams out there.”
Aside from Soloman, Cameron Harvey and Chase Wilkinson are the only Devils who saw meaningful minutes for the varsity squad last season.
Statesboro coach Lee Hill believes he has the talent to win without a boatload of experience, but to do so will take constant improvement as the season goes on.
“We’re a very young team,” Hill said. “There are some guys coming up from JV that need to settle in. We have a lot of athleticism, but we need to learn how to play with it. These guys know the game, so I’m encouraged by that.”
As hard as the road was last season, this time around could be even more difficult.
Statesboro’s football team learned the hard way about the possible perils of moving up a classification. The same holds true for the Basketball Devils as they prep for their first season in Class AAAAA.
“You can usually tell what to expect from the region by watching football season,” Hill says. “I don’t know how many of these guys will play basketball, but I saw a lot of athleticism on the football field and I expect that we’ll have a lot of challenges.”
For the Lady Blue Devils, the similar goal of returning to the state playoffs remains the same as the boys, but the issues coming into the season are a bit different.
Two seasons ago, Statesboro knew it was in for a rough ride. With five graduated starters, the new wave of Lady Blue Devils was forced to take its lumps.
The slow climb back to the top half of the standings continued last season and coach Jeff Seier hopes that this is the year his team finally gets over the hump.
“It’s a little strange how we seem to be young for a third straight season,” Seier said. “On paper, it seems like we’re still young. We aren’t loaded with seniors, but we have a lot more experience returning this season.”
Leading the way for the Lady Devils will be senior guard Tanice Johnson. As the only member of the team to log court time with Statesboro’s last state playoff squad, Johnson has spent the last two seasons trying to bridge the gap to a new era of solid SHS teams.
Johnson’s maturity, basketball sense and ball handling will be key as she quarterbacks the Blue Devil attack.
Stayshia and Dayshia Everett will join Alexis Hunter and Brianna Jones as key returning cogs from last season's squad.
The experience is there and the flashes of potential have become more frequent.
Now it's time to put it together for a full season.
"We know that we have some good girls," Seier said. "The thing is that there are a ton of good teams. There might be five or six teams good enough to get to the playoffs, so we have our work cut out for us."
Both teams will tim off their season today at the Devil's Den against Liberty County.
The Lady Devils will begin at 4 p.m. with the boys following.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.