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McKenzie varsity teams prepare for upcoming basketball season

Basketball season is right around the corner within the halls of McKenzie School, and both the girls and boys varsity teams are itching to hit the hard wood next week on the road at Florala.

Tony Norris, head girls basketball coach at McKenzie, enters his third year in the role.  Though Norris has picked up a few additional responsibilities, including his new role as head football coach, he said that it’s been business as usual on the hardwood.

What has changed, however, is the absence of previous team captains Mikeia Clemons and Ashley Ballard, two sources of leadership from last season’s team.

“Mikeia was one of our leading scorers last year and our ball-handler on offense, so it’s a pretty big blow,” Norris said.

“Those two girls did a really good job of being leaders for the team last year, so it’s one of those things where every year you’ve got students graduating, but you’ve got to figure out a way to replace them.”

And though the Lady Tigers are still in the process of answering that question—and developing a solid starting five—the team has one large one-up over last season’s team.

“The good thing about it is I’ve got 14 girls and 13 of them were apart of the team last year,” Norris said.

“Chemistry is coming together.  The biggest thing is, with it being a really quick turnaround, it’s been a little bit of a challenge, but it is every year.  The girls are working really hard.”

The Lady Tigers are still a young team, despite the experiences afforded from last season.  Of the 14, eight sophomores comprise the team.

One senior and two juniors round out the leadership roles, and Norris is hopeful that more pieces will fall into place as the season continues.

“The good thing is we’ve got the next two weeks to figure out our identity and what we’re going to be really good at and what we’re going to have to work on,” Norris said.

As for the varsity boys team, head coach Miles Brown—who returns to the position after a two-year stint—said that he’s been fortunate to inherit some valuable leadership.

“Last year, Coach McLendon had some good seniors that did a really good job for him,” Brown said.  “And anything you graduate kids, it’s hard to replace good leadership.

“But so far, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed because I’ve got three seniors—Condie Pugh, Gary Likely and Tristan Macks—who have done a phenomenal job of being leaders for our basketball team.  And they’ve really bought into what I’m teaching them, and that’s what it takes.”

One of the largest hurdles facing the Tigers is overcoming a lengthy football season, and transitioning to an altogether different sport.

“We play games next week, and I don’t know if we’ll be in basketball shape by then or not,” Brown said.

“The rigor of basketball is a lot different than football.  In football, you have a stop in there, but in basketball there’s the constant rigor of moving, and that’s tough.  I don’t know if we’ll be in true basketball shape next week, but we’re trying to get there.”

Both varsity teams will hit the road for three consecutive away games next week, beginning with Florala on Monday.

But Brown is hopeful that a supportive home crowd will be behind the teams as the Tigers and Lady Tigers host Highland Home on the following Monday, Dec. 14.

“I want to encourage all fans to come out and support these guys, and these girls also, at our home games,” Brown said.

“I want to try to get as many folks in the gym as the fire marshal will allow.”