HED:Northeast Tigers, Lady Tigers loaded with youth
By Parrish Alford
As if coaching basketball doesn't require enough time and attention, Northeast Community College men's coach Mike Lewis will have additional responsibilities this season.
He'll serve as campus information officer and parental consultant.
Eleven members of the Tigers' 13-man roster are first-year players.
The scenario is somewhat similar for Lady Tigers coach Ricky Ford.
While more sophomores will provide the ladies with more experience, the only starters back from last year's 22-3 state champion team are Jill McClarin and LaMeeka Sears.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers opened regular season Monday in the Northeast Tip-Off Classic.
"We've had this (type of turnover) happen a couple of times," said Lewis, whose 21-8 team lost in the first round of the Region 23 tournament last year. "This time there were some circumstances that led to it."
That his Tigers are heavy on rookies doesn't bother Lewis, who believes he has a quality group.
"We don't have a Dontae (Jones) or a Tim (Cole), but this may be the most talented group we've had one through nine," Lewis said.
Six-foot-one guard Shauwn High of New Albany and 6-7 center Shaunta Ballard of Jackson are the only returning sophomores. Both are in Lewis' planned eight-man playing rotation.
They'll be expected to help the first-year players make the transition.
"This group seems to be going fine right now. It's just a matter of making the transition," Lewis said. "We have to get into a routine. Our nine weeks grades were pretty good, and that's usually an adjustment for most players ... college life and the freedom of being away from home."
Newcomers to watch include Eric Batchelor, a 6-6 forward, and Deltorio Campbell, a 6-5 forward, both of Memphis.
Batchelor was highly-recruited out of high school, and Campbell was among the top five prep players in Memphis, Lewis said. Both have the physical tools to adapt quickly.
Former Baldwyn standout Guy Gardner, a 6-2 guard, is another player making a quick adjustment, Lewis said.
The pains of college adjustment will be less noticeable for Ford's Lady Tigers. Five of the 12 players on the roster are sophomores.
Rejoining McClarin an honorable mention All-American last season and Sears are sophomores Sylvia Powell, Amber Hood and Lori Moss.
Powell, a 6-foot forward, and guards Hood and Moss were part of a 10-player rotation last season.
Ford has five spots to fill.
"It's taking our freshman a little longer than I anticipated for them to learn our system, but they're coming along fine," he said.
One freshman Ford expects big things from is 6-2 forward Kamiya Thorne of Belmont.
"She came in a little weak physically, but she's been on a weight program and has gotten a lot stronger," Ford said. "She had 15 rebounds in our last scrimmage. She gives us some good height inside and intimidates a lot of people."
The combination of Thorne and Powell makes the Lady Tigers a little bigger than normal, but that won't deter Ford from running the floor.
"That might affect us a little bit as far as our man pressure in the full court, but that will continue to be our game plan," he said.
Thorne will start, along with McClarin, Powell, Sears and Moss. Players in the rotation will play about 20-25 minutes a game.
"We try to have 10 starters that play and contribute," Ford said.