After turning in one of the most successful seasons in the history of the program, the Cornersville Bulldogs basketball program will try to maintain the gains made under third-year coach Adrian Wilson.
It will not be easy, however, as the Bulldogs graduated six seniors from last year's squad, which finished third in District 11-A and advanced to the semifinals of the Region 6-A tournament, with three of those players either garnering All-District or All-Region honors. To make matters more difficult for Cornersville, shooting guard Chuck Bassham suffered a severe knee injury during football season and will miss his senior campaign after starting last year and making the All-Region team.
Despite these challenges, Wilson wants to keep the goals for his team high this season.
"We're striving to compete for a District championship every year. We lost four out of five starters, but good teams compete every year. I want people to know who we are and what we're about and that we're going to come and play hard every night," said Wilson.
Senior small forward Garrett Stiles is the Bulldogs' lone returning starter and will have to shoulder much of the offensive burden this season after earning All-District and All-Region honors as a junior. Considered one of the more athletic players in the District, Stiles is an outstanding defender and has won the team's Defensive Player of the Year Award each of the last two seasons. He excels at driving to the basket and finishing around the rim, but has also improved his outside shooting and is a great rebounder.
"Garrett's worked hard in the weight room in the off season and has gotten a lot stronger. He's going to have to be one of our leaders this year," said Wilson.
Senior center Joseph Darnell and junior power forward Brent Pope will likely join Stiles in the front court. Darnell saw a lot of playing time as a back up last season and is Cornersville's best scorer on the low block, but can also step outside and shoot the three. Although he dropped some weight in the off season in order to improve his agility, Darnell is still one of the strongest players on the team and is a good rebounder. He is also not afraid to mix it up inside and is very physical on the defensive end.
Pope, meanwhile, is still developing offensively, but has a decent mid range jumper and is a solid rebounder and defender.
In the backcourt, junior Flint Davis will man the shooting guard spot, while sophomore Josh Pope and junior P.J. Allen are battling for the starting point guard position.
Despite seeing limited playing time last year, Davis is one of the better decision makers on the team and has improved greatly both as a rebounder and a defender. Davis also has the ability to get to the basket and score, but needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end.
Josh Pope was expected to be a starter this year after serving as the backup to senior point guard Jimmy Civils last season, but is having to fight off a tough challenge from Allen. Pope is diminutive, but has good quickness and has improved his three-point shooting.
Although he hasn't played organized basketball since the seventh grade, Allen is quickly improving his offensive skills and is a tenacious one-on-one defender.
Freshman Dillon Jones could also see time in the backcourt and is a promising outside shooter, but is still adjusting to the high school game.
Sophomore guard Trent Davis, junior center Brandon Kendrick, and freshman forwards Mike Lovett and Blake Poteat are vying for playing time as well and have a chance to contribute this season if they continue to improve.
Except for Cornersville and Moore County, every team in District 11-A returns most of their key players from last year. While CHS could get off to a slow start due to all the new faces in the starting lineup, Wilson is hoping that the Bulldogs follow the example of his first two teams at Cornersville, which came on strong late and proved to be a tough out in the playoffs.
"We just need to get better on a daily basis. Last year we didn't play as well as we thought we would early on, but we continued to work hard and peaked at the end of the season," said Wilson
If the Bulldogs can show steady improvement throughout the year and find a couple of scorers to complement Stiles, Cornersville has a chance to finish in the upper half of the District for the third straight year.