Friday, October 25, 2013

First Look at the GRU Jaguars

After spending so much time coaching and watching high school basketball, I was thoroughly impressed by every aspect of the GRU (formerly Augusta State) Jaguars' early season practice Tuesday at Christenberry Fieldhouse.  The team's talent and depth; the eagerness of virtually every player to compete, communicate, cooperate, and learn; and the efficiency of coach Dip Metress's practice certainly reinforced my belief that we area high school coaches (and players) have a wonderful benchmark nearby to compare ourselves to.
The main thing on my mind entering the gym was not the Jaguars' team. Being an Augusta guy, and an "Augusta Metros" guy, I think of Laney and Metros alum Harold Doby when I think of Augusta State basketball. Harold's return to the hardwood after sitting out much of the second half of last season (due to legal troubles that have been resolved) was reason enough for Augusta College alum Keenan Mann (another Metros long timer who met me at the practice) and me to believe that the Jaguars would quickly return to championship form.

 But we quickly realized this year's group potentially has more good players than even Metress can figure out how to use. It's probably true that Metress understated the likely impact of the freshman/senior, point guard/post brother combo of Keshun and K.J. Sherrill when he recently gave this quote to the Augusta Chronicle: "Last year, we saw what the Sherrills could do in practice.”
Jags fans will be pleased to see Doby is one of many
Jags poised to make an impact.
Add proven contributors Ryan Weems, Devon Wright Nelson, and Devonte Thomas, and a pair of 6'9" freshman who look ready to contribute, and Doby goes from being the main point of interest to one of 8-9 players who may impact the game on any given night.
Teams often look good before encountering the real adversity that comes with game competition. And it may be argued that having 2-3 standout performers surrounded by experienced players who know how to fit in is better than having a large number of talented players who are accustomed to a lot of shooting and scoring responsibility. And because I have been watching very little live college basketball, I may be naive in thinking the Jaguars have a chance to be special. (Note: according to the "Division II Bulletin" and several in attendance Tuesday, Peach Belt rival USC Aiken is the team to watch).
But I'll trust my instincts and predict that the Jaguars are returning to the top portion of the Peach Belt race and eventually into the national tournament. After watching Harold Doby play most of his life, I do know how good he is. And I think Keenan would agree that Harold has many comparable teammates. (Even Harold seems to agree after stating that he "had a bad practice" afterwards.) And that kind of talent and depth mixed with Metress's experience teaching and winning will spell trouble for opponents.

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