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Last year, Langston Hughes coach Rory Welsh delegated some of his time for a 1-on-1 session after winning his first state title. Now he’s returned to run it back as a two-time champion with the Panthers getting closer to tipping off the 2018-19 season.
Langston Hughes has five players returning from the back-to-back title runs but that list doesn’t include Landers Nolley, who registered 30 points a game and is now wearing No. 21 at Virginia Tech.
“We feel really good about the amount of experience we are bringing back,” Welsh said. “We have five guys on our roster who were on both of the state championship teams so we feel like we have more championship-level experience than anybody in the state especially in our classification.”
Seniors Tyrel Morgan (6-5 forward) and Papa Samba (6-7 forward/center), and juniors Patrick Carter Jr. (6-4 guard) and Josh Butts (6-7 forward) are back to represent and prove to everyone outside of their locker room that the Panthers are not rebuilding this season.
“We know that we are the target,” Welsh said. “We won two state championships in a row. We know in order to sustain that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. These guys have really bought into it and to be honest these guys have a big-time chip on their shoulder because now people are saying they can’t win it because they don’t have Landers so the guys feel some type of way.
“The first year we won it people were saying we weren’t good enough. We had three Division-I players in Derrick [Cook], Khalil [Cuffee] and Landers. They said we weren’t good enough to do it and we did it. The next year they said we graduated four starters and they got one returning starter and it’s no way they can do it again. The guys took that as a challenge and we did it. Now the challenge is Landers is no longer here so let’s prove we have enough talent on this roster to push all the way again. It’s a challenge within a challenge and that is the way we are approaching it.”
As far as unfamiliar faces, freshman point guard Kobe Davis is one of the newest additions and Welsh believes he has the skills to make an impact right away.
“We got a freshman who we think is the best in the state of Georgia,” Welsh said. “I’m not playing this boy has a chance to be a high, major Division-I point guard. He’s left handed and cat quick. He can shoot the blood out of the ball. He knows how to operate out of a ball screen and extremely athletic. What he does for us at that point guard position really allows for PJ to slide over and be more of a shooting guard. It allows Tyrel to really be that do-it-all Swiss army knife at small forward. Kobe really allows everybody to go to their natural spot.”
Each game is broken down into four quarters so now it’s time for the 4 Questions section of the 2018-19 South-metro Atlanta area preview with Coach Welsh, a two-time state champion.
What is the most important thing your team must improve on this season?
The most important thing is going to be the level of our aggression offensively. Last year with Landers, we penciled him in for 30 points a game no matter who we were playing–that was on a regular night. We know we are a defensive-based team and program along with rebound and that is our first priority, but this year we need guys to be more assertive offensively and really impose their will and be a threat. We think we got four to five guys every night that could be in double figures. We think Tyrel Morgan is going to be our leading scorer. We need him to lead the troops. I don’t want to say he’s passive but he really plays well in the system. This year we need him to be more of a risk taker.
What will surprise opponents about your team this season?
The offensive balance is going to take people a little bit by surprise. I don’t think other teams that have scouted us prior to this season realize how good these other guys are. They were kind of overlooked a lot with Landers and Tyler Smith who graduated. Those guys got a lot of fan fare. I think how these guys have blossomed and grown is going to take people by surprise.
Which team outside of yours will be the biggest surprise in the region this season?
We think Tri-Cities is going to be one of the teams to beat. They’ve added a couple of pieces to what they already had which was a pretty strong foundation. We feel like Alexander is going to be better this year. They’ve added a couple of pieces. They had a pretty good roster last year and run in the region. We are trying to be right up there with the pack. We are really eyeing them on our schedule and hope to keep them from trying to take what we got and that is the number one spot.
What is one rule change you would’ve liked to see go into effect this season?
The one thing I’ve been kind of harping on in the basketball coaching circles in the implementation of the block/charge circle in high school basketball. I think that should be the first step taken towards advancing the game in the state of Georgia. First off, the block/charge call is the hardest call to officiate and everybody knows that. With it being that difficult to officiate, that block/charge circle will take a lot of pressure off the officials to make that call.
A lot of these charges are being called directly under the basket–that is a safety issue. People get hurt in that capacity. Then it makes no sense and this is why. Let’s say you were standing under the basket and you step up to take the charge and I dunk all over you and land on you. Those two points are going to count and they call the foul on Maurice Dixon. You had your spot but I dunk on you and land all over you but because I dunked it I’m not going to get penalized.
Now, I’m a below the rim guy anyway so say I go up and finger roll it and you had your spot right under the rim. I make that basket and land on you but they are going to call a charge. So because I didn’t dunk the ball I get penalized. That doesn’t make any sense. You have to give the offensive player some sort of advantage when he is trying to score right under the basket. He’s got to be able to come down. Then after we take that small step, we can move on to a shot clock eventually.