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Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Jalyn Daniels (5) attempts a shot over Elmore County’s Hayden Holton.

Entering the season, the Tallassee boys basketball team felt like it had one of the better starting lineups throughout Class 5A. Some coaches don’t want to mess with that kind of confidence but Tallassee coach Keiven Mixson had no choice as sophomore guard Jalyn Daniels has shown plenty of improvement in his first varsity season.

“Jalyn has been a big surprise in some ways but at the same time, it’s not that surprising to see him here now,” Mixson said. “He’s a fearless player and he works hard. It’s impressive to see a sophomore play with that kind of aggressiveness.”

Daniels started the season as a backup point guard but sees a lot of minutes as the two guard, sharing the court with Tallassee’s starting point guard Jamicah Humphrey. The more Mixson saw the two players together, the more he realized Daniels needed more time on the court.

“I always tell them I don’t determine who plays on this team,” Mixson said. “They determine who plays by the way the practice, the way they produce and by giving effort. I watch a lot of tape and Jalyn kept popping out so he has earned a chance to start. And I think if he keeps playing like this, he’ll keep that spot.”

It did not take long for Daniels’ impact to be felt as he quickly gave Tallassee another option to run the offense. Mixson said it is huge to have two capable point guards who can run an offensive set and are comfortable pushing the ball in transition. 

Daniels and Humphrey are not new to each other as they played travel ball together as well. Humphrey continues to be the top scoring guard but Daniels has found plenty of ways to stuff the stat sheet outside of scoring.

“Playing good defense, scoring some and I really like to dish the ball too,” Daniels said. “I’ve been having fun. I know (Humphrey) can handle the ball and we trust each other. If they start guarding him, he’s going to pass it to me.”

Daniels showed out as he got his first taste of the annual Elmore County Tournament, playing three games in three days to help the Tigers to their second consecutive title. Daniels averaged 5.7 points per game and had an effect on nearly every aspect, totaling 15 rebounds, 11 assists, nine steals and a block.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Daniels said. “I just have to stay focused and keep doing what got me here. Keep playing defense and working hard.”

Since moving to the starting lineup, Daniels said he has not playing any differently. Mixson partly agreed and said Daniels always played with confidence even when he was a reserve but he has noticed some positive changes in the last two weeks.

“He has always had that even when coming off the bench,” Mixson said. “But since putting him in the starting lineup, he plays with a little more edge and a little more confidence. He’s performed better since then.”

The toughest part of the decision to move Daniels into the lineup was removing Sandarius Hughley from a starting role. Hughley has struggled with his shot but his impact has still been felt on both ends and Mixson is still expecting Hughley to play a vital role the rest of the season.

“Sandarius has responded exactly the way you would want him to,” Mixson said. “I don’t want him to be satisfied coming off the bench but he has been a huge factor since we moved him there. He’s still our best defender and we’re going to need him.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.