There was no hiding the disappointment that came with the end of Tallassee’s basketball season last year. The Tigers made it to the regional tournament and was one of the final 16 teams standing in Class 5A and while that was a success in its own right, it was not enough to satisfy the players. With several of them back on the court this year, they are ready to take things at least one more step forward.
“We just have to take it one game at a time but we’re still aiming at that ultimate prize,” Tallassee boys coach Keiven Mixson said. “We did lose a lot but we have a lot coming back so we feel like we’re pretty strong. We have to focus on each individual day to get better. There are steps in getting there and it’s going to be a process but our main goal is still to win a state championship.”
Tallassee has a good returning core it can rely on to help get it there but its key players will be in the backcourt where the Tigers return all three starters including Jamicah Humphery, last year’s leading scorer. Humphery proved to be one of the most lethal shooters in the area and averaged 14.4 points while dishing out 4.6 assists per game but those numbers could rise even more in his senior season as he will be expected to take on an even bigger role this season.
“He has trained and prepared for this moment,” Mixson said. “This is his year. There are no limitations for him. Being one of the major players, he knows what the expectations are. He doesn’t have to change too much other than maybe just to shoot the ball more. He’s just got to be himself.”
Joining Humphery will be guard Jayln Daniels who saw consistent improvement last year and moved into the starting lineup for the second half of the season. Mixson said he is expecting this year to be even more of a breakout year for Daniels.
“You cannot overlook him,” Mixson said. “He had as good of a season as anyone last year as a sophomore.”
Tae Collins will be back on the wing and despite being the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-6, he will see plenty of time with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. In his first season with the team, Collins put up 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game but Mixson believes that was just scratching the surface of his potential.
“He has grown as much as anybody I have had in my 30 years of coaching,” Mixson said. “He’s gotten stronger and he just lives in the gym. He played AAU all summer. He has trained and prepared harder than anyone I have seen. I expect him to build off what he did last year. He is not the same player he was last year.”
While the backcourt is filled with experience and talent, Tallassee will face some early questions with its post players. After losing all-county players Tyrek Turner and Tavarious Griffin from last season, the Tigers will need to find new faces to fill in the starting lineup and Mixson believes Clayten Gough and Zavion Carr will be the ones taking a majority of those minutes.
“Those two guys aren’t the same as Tyrek and Truck because they just have different games,” Mixson said. “They are just what I like to call bangers and every coach could use a guy like that. I have confidence in those two to go in there and bang with anybody. I think they will fill in nicely.”
Duke Washington was expected to be back in a bigger role this season but he will be sidelined for an extended period of time after suffering an injury during football season. Denzell Crosby, Ziggy Holloway, Jake Manning and Tyreese Ross are expected to be some of the top players off the bench for Tallassee.
“I feel confident in our role players,” Mixson said. “I think we can probably go nine or 10 deep this year.”
Tallassee upped its typical strength of schedule with a few big names mixed in last season and Mixson took that another step further this year.
First, the Tigers will move into a new area which will include last year’s area runner-up Brewbaker Tech, regional finalist Pike Road and Beauregard. Tallassee has also stacked the schedule with games against Auburn, Homewood, John Carroll and a home-and-home with Calhoun, led by the state’s top recruit and Alabama commit JD Davison.
The Tigers will waste no time in getting the gauntlet started as they have made a last minute addition with a road trip to Class 7A powerhouse Hoover scheduled for Tuesday to open the season.
“Some people say that’s crazy but we just want to know,” Mixson said. “We want to go play in a nice environment against a really good team. They are going to tell us what to work on going forward. We don’t know what the score is going to be but it’s going to be a win-win for us.”