Woodland enters basketball season with young team

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The Woodland High boys basketball team is coming off a 5-19 season, and the team’s two leading scorers and top three rebounders all graduated.

That leaves Woodland with a young team in a competitive Region 7-AAAAA, and after John Howard stepped down as the head coach to move to assistant principal, one-time girls basketball coach Colman Roberts is tasked with getting the most out of the young Wildcats.

“We’re very, very young,” Roberts said of his team this year, which starts action Friday at home against Pepperell. “It’s going well. We’ve had a couple of good practices lately. We got our football guys back. We’re working hard and looking forward to [the season].”

Seniors Camden Royal and Trevor Knowles are the two returning starters off of last year’s team and both are seniors. Royal was third on the team, averaging 7.5 points per game and he was also among the team’s top five rebounders at 2.6 per game. Knowles also was a top-five scorer at five points per game. Justice Hayes and Jaylen Ballard are two sophomore who saw varsity action last year as well.

“We have a couple of kids that played a lot of minutes last year,” Roberts said. “A lot of our kids played JV last year and they’re young.

“I’m really pleased with how hard they’re working. Our older guys are being leaders.”

Woodland will not have much size this year, and lost its leading rebounder in Brady Jernigan. The Wildcats will try to make up for it with team speed. That and a strong sophomore class give Woodland optimism going into the year.

“We have a lot of speed. We’re more athletic, we just don’t have a lot of height,” Roberts said. “We have tons of young kids. We have a huge sophomore class. Those kids, if they keep working hard, they may do something special.”

Last year’s Woodland team ran a lot of dribble-drive motion offense. However, without lead guards Jonathan Pritchett and Jarvis James—the two leading scorers as seniors last season—Woodland will rely more on set offense to score points. Woodland shot under 30 percent from the 3-point line last year and averaged just 51 points per game.

Roberts is hoping a back-to-the-basics approach will allow his team to score more this year.

“We’re going to try to do a lot of set stuff and try to put pressure on them defensively. The biggest thing is fundamentals—passing, boxing out,” Roberts said. “We have a long way to go. We’re trying to tell them that we’re not making any excuses. We’re going to play and get after it.”

Not only will Woodland have a young team with plenty of production to replace off last year’s squad, the Wildcats also will be entering a competitive region with the likes of Rome, Carrollton, Villa Rica and Cass, among others.

“It’s going to be very tough,” Roberts said of the new region. “It’s going to be tough all the way around. We talk about it every day, try to do the little things, boxing out, playing defense, fundamentals and all those things. We’re trying to improve from last year and the kids are doing well. We have great kids.”

With the talent in the region, Woodland will be in for some tough games. One way the team is preparing for those games is to develop a competitive mindset.

Making the state playoffs might seem like a longshot for this year’s Wildcats, but Roberts is taking the approach of developing the younger players in the program and see if they can’t surprise some teams once region games begin.

“I want to make state playoffs,” Roberts said. “That may be a crazy goal, maybe unrealistic to some people. But I really would like to see them grow during the season and maybe have a chance to make the state playoffs. That would be unbelievable for us.”