By Gene Phelps
Special to the Gazette
Myrtle boys basketball coach Rob Browning appreciates hard work, so he’s really loving his team’s effort in summer league play.
“If a kid plays hard in the summer, I know when the lights come on in November and December, they’re going to play hard,” he said. “This group plays harder than any group I’ve had. They just get after you.
“It’s fun to coach when kids play hard.”
The Hawks are playing this summer without starting point guard, senior Elijah Ingram, who’s sidelined with an injury. In his place, starting guards A.I. Nugent and Elijah Thompson have filled the role.
“You’re either born to be a point guard or you’re not,” Browning said. “You have to embrace that role and Elijah Ingram’s done that.”
Ingram averaged 12.4 points per game last season as a starter. Nugent, a junior, returns as the team’s leading scorer after averaging 15.7 points. Thompson, also a junior, averaged 9.0 points per game. Both players play leading roles on the football team, too – Nugent at running back and Thompson at quarterback.
Sophomore guard Jaden Taylor returns after averaging 10.6 points per game as a freshman. He’ll be joined in the Hawks’ small lineup by senior guard Hunter Baggett. Look for sophomores Caden Hutcheson and Dylan Gaines to provide defensive help at the guard spot.
“Hunter Baggett is very aggressive defensively. Jaden Taylor has some of the best hands around,” Browning said. “They make us better.”
A lack of height will continue to plague the up-tempo Hawks. Look for football players Luke Gaines and Conner Coleman, both juniors, to help inside. Carl Graham, a lanky junior, is being counted on to guard in the paint.
“Nugent and Thompson have had to guard guys who are bigger in the past,” Browning said.
Now, the coach hopes Gaines, Coleman and Graham can share the rebounding and inside defensive load.
“We may use a lot of fouls underneath to keep us out of foul trouble with our guards (Nugent and Thompson),” Browning said. “We’re so small, we’re not going into a gym and blow somebody out. We’re going to play a lot of close games if we shoot it well and rebound efficiently on the defensive end.”
The guard-oriented Hawks will live with their fast break style.
“You can put so much pressure on a defense,” Browning said. “If we can steal 10 points a game with our fast break, then I feel comfortable with our chances in any game.”