Both Newton County basketball teams are in the same situation heading into the upcoming season.
Both teams bring back all of their starters from last year and both coaches will tell you that they are still young but with a year’s more experience.
Here’s a look at both teams heading into the upcoming season.
Newton County boys
The Cougars struggled through one veteran coach Steve Harber’s toughest seasons last year with a group so young he said not one player even had a driver’s license.
The good part is all of those players are a year older with a year’s worth of playing time under their belts.
“We are going to be all right, we just have to get everybody going and on the same page,” Harber said. “We had a really good summer. We are still going to be really young. We just got our football kids out and are trying to get everybody back in the gym and get them in basketball shape.”
With so many players back with playing time and a lack of size, Harber said he is trying to play faster this season.
“So far, we have pressed about 75 percent of the time,” Harber said. “We are trying to play faster and more up tempo. We are trying to play with more and more pressure. We have some guys who can score in the open floor. We just don’t have the size to play a half-court game.”
Coming back for the Cougars is leading scorer Josiah Cleveland, one of two seniors on the team. But Cleveland was involved in a car accident during the Christmas holiday and is out of the lineup for an undetermined amount of time.
Also back is Davion Hillie at power forward while Chris Thomas is at the point and has led the team in assists so far. Also back is Jared Thames at a shooting guard while Jamaal Croft will see plenty of playing time.
“We have gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger,” Harber said. “With the football kids coming in, we will get more athletic. Miguel Evans had a big summer for us and will help us a lot. We don’t have a lot of size but we have some depth. We are going to have to rely on our quickness.”
Also expected to see playing time will be freshmen transfers Dressen Jimm and Sebastian Johnson. Also coming off the bench will be sophomores Lawson Reeves, Kyrwan Wansley and Afton Johnson.
After struggling for most of last year, the Newton County Lady Cougars are set to challenge for a division championship this season with all five starters back from last year’s squad.
Veteran coach Cory Cleveland said he likes the team he is able to put on the court and likes the hustle he has seen so far.
“I feel like we have a good opportunity to do some good things because we do have the majority of our kids back,” Cleveland said. “We were young last year and will be young again but it will be young with experience. I’ve been pleased with the way we have played so far. We have played with a lot of hustle and a lot of intensity. The hustle is definitely there.”
Coming back from last year’s squad is senior guard Keasja Wansley, junior guard Nahriah Brown, sophomore guard Christaysia Denson, sophomore guard Remini Nickey and sophomore forward Hannah McDougle.
Cleveland said he also expects a lot out of junior center Jayden Mack while freshman guard Kaylynn Johnson will come off the bench and see playing time. Freshman guard Audrianna Billy is coming off an injury but is also expected to see playing time. Seniors Leona Billy and Hannah Sullivan are also expected to see playing time.
The Lady Cougars will be in a slightly new division this year with Northeast Jones, Quitman, Florence, Richland and Mendenhall.
“I don’t know much about the new division yet,” Cleveland said. “I think Quitman will be tough, they didn’t lose a lot from last year. Northeast Jones and Mendenhall have always played us tough games. I know nothing can be taken for granted and we have to work for everything we get.”