Tallassee erases second half deficit to win Lions Club Tournament

Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Sandarius Hughley goes up to the basket during the Tigers win over ACA. Hughley was named to the all-tournament team after scoring 13 points in the final.

As the end of fall sports season approaches, high school sports fans are turning their attention to the hardwood and there is plenty to be excited for in Tallassee. After back-to-back sub-regional appearances, the Tallassee’s boys basketball team is entering the 2019 season with high expectations a big group of returning starters plus some newcomers who will be expected to contribute immediately.

“We always have the ultimate goal of making it to the state championships in Birmingham,” Tallassee boys coach Keiven Mixson said. “But my message is taking it one game at a time and getting better every day. We want to win area, get past that sub-region round that’s given us some trouble and go from there.”

Unfortunately for Tallassee, its Class 5A Area 4 schedule does not get any easier this season as the Tigers will have to work past Brewbaker Tech again. Tallassee won one of the three matchups last season but got blown out in the final two, including once in the area tournament. However, Mixson said he believes the challenge will be good for the Tigers.

“I really look at it as a positive thing,” Mixson said. “I talk to some of my other coaching friends about what really helps make a program better and it’s always about scheduling tough competition. That’s what will make you stronger.”

The Tigers will have a handful of familiar faces to help against the tough competition including reigning Elmore County Player of the Year and forward Tyrek Turner and starting point guard Jamicah Humphrey. 

“They are both putting in a lot of work,” Mixson said. “They are in the gym every day getting better and getting stronger. Everyone keeps asking me how much they have improved but that’s tough to tell until they are on the court. I am as anxious as everyone else to see them play.”

Mixson also said he wants to see some development from returning starters Sandarius Hughley and Tavarious Griffin. Hughley is expected to still be one of Tallassee’s top perimeter defenders and outside shooters while Griffin will work his way back from football season to play an important role in the post.

The Tigers have also added 6-foot-6 Tay Collins into the rotation to play wing and fill the role left by Kalvin Levett. Mixson called Robert E. Lee transfer Demontae Washington the best athlete on the team as just a sophomore.

“Depth was an issue for us last year,” Mixson said. “I see us being able to play 10 guys every game now. Every player has gotten better. We’ve added depth so if everyone stays healthy and does what they are supposed to do, that can turn into our strength.”

The Tallassee girls squad is not shying away from high expectations either as it looks to make a big jump after winning just seven games last season. The Tigers won five of those games in the final three weeks and they are hoping to take some of that momentum into this year.

“These girls are really embracing the process,” Tallassee girls coach Harold Harris said. “The intensity they show is something we have not had in the past. This year’s team is absolutely better than last year.”

Harris went as far to say he will not be surprised to see his players still playing at the end of February but he also knows there is plenty of work to do between now and then. However, he is excited to see what his returning players can do, led by the team’s two seniors.

Lindan Oliver will return to play point guard and Harris said she’s like having another coach on the floor. Sinclair Cole, who was the team’s leading scorer in several games last season, returns and is expected to be the best outside shooter.

“Those two seniors have been tremendous at keeping the whole team together,” Harris said. “They are out motivators.”

Jy Teriuna McKinnon saw some time filling in late last season and she is expected to compete for a starting role as a guard. Reagan will likely be the team’s starting center while Ajaida Griffin and Anechie Robinson compete for a starting forward spot.

Tallassee has its sights set on competing for the Class 5A Area 4 championship but the Tigers will have to close a big gap against Brew Tech, a team they lost to by 60-plus points twice last season. Harris said that is a driving factor as the Tigers want to be ready to compete with the Rams by the start of area play.

“We are prepping for that every day,” Harris said. “We’re focused on competing and that can prepare us for the postseason. We don’t plan to lose anything this year. We’re trying to send a message and change what everyone thinks about Tallassee girls basketball.”

Tallassee kicks off the season Tuesday at home against Elmore County.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.