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Tornado standards won’t be lowered by unproven roster

Tornado standards won’t be lowered by unproven roster
That the Union City boys lost four starters and 65 points-per-game from last year’s unbeaten Class A state championship team isn’t likely to gain the Tornadoes any sympathy from their opposition.
It also won’t lower the expectations of one of state’s premier programs.
Coming off the ultimate perfect season in which it went 37-0 and won the school’s second state title in three years and fifth overall, UC faces a huge challenge in maintaining those lofty standards.
Gone is two-time Mr. Basketball winner MJ Brown — one of the most decorated players in the rich hoop tradition of the school — along with six other seniors who combined to post a 128-16 record during their four years in the program.
Their legacy built on a run-and-gun style with heavy doses of fullcourt pressure and 3-point shooting, that group — which also included Andre Coby, Tony Wilkins, Nik Brooks, Lovan Mosley, Pat Polk and Cameron Callicott — helped head coach Shane Sisco post four successive 30-win seasons.
Sisco, who’ll begin his 10th season at the Twister helm with a splendid .777 winning percentage (224-64) at the school, knows that after regularly overwhelming and routing foes the last few seasons, there’ll be no compassion for this year’s roster that is largely inexperienced.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, and we’re not going to make excuses because we’re young and lack experience,” the coach claimed. “Our goal at the end of the season is to be able to compete for the district championship like we have in the past several seasons. That’s not going to change.”
Sisco is realistic, however, that the program’s unbeaten streak carried over from last season will likely end sometime this year, as probably will a 40-game regular season District 14A winning streak that spans back to the 2006-07 campaign.
“Look, we’re going to lose a game at some point this season,” he said. “I’ve told the kids that and tried to prepare them for it. It won’t be the end of the world. The key for this group is to continue to play hard and improve — every day in practice and every night out. That will ultimately determine what kind of success we have.”
With just two players of notable experience and one starter returning from the 2007-08 team, this year’s Tornado club will certainly be a work in progress.
Seniors Ryne Simpson (5-10) and B.J. Marshall (6-2) are the lone players to have logged significant playing time last season and will be leaned upon heavily, not only for leadership but their multiple skills.
The rugged Simpson, who averaged seven ppg while playing 13 minutes-per-game a year ago, could see action at any of the five starting positions this season.
With a scorer’s mentality, decent shooting range and the ability to post up down low, he must stay on the floor and out of foul trouble at all times.
Marshall, at times dead-eye from 3-point range last season, is athletic and will be expected to cause havoc at the front of UC’s pressure defense.
He’ll be backed up at the small forward spot by 5-11 Marcus Haywood, an untested sophomore who is fundamentally sound, according to his coach.
“Those two will have to lead, to set a good example both on and off the court because so many of our young kids are followers now because of their inexperience,” Sisco said of hissenior duo.
Sophomore Tyler Steward-Crume (5-6) will try to fill the big shoes left by Brown’s graduation and run the Twisters’ fast-paced offense.
Crume has good quickness and excellent court vision and won’t be counted on so much as a scorer as Brown and other past Union City point guards.
Rakim Gaston (6-0, Jr.) has transferred back to UCHS from Fulton County and will bring his athleticism to the spot as a backup.
Freshman Shyheim Slayton (5-7) could also see time there.
Josh Battee (6-0, Jr.) will open at the two-guard and has shown great improvement over the offseason, says Sisco.
A good shooter — both stationary and on the move — Battee will be expected to produce points from the backcourt.
Depth at the position will come from sophomore Antonio Cox (5-6) and senior Colton Speed (5-9).
Cox is a great competitor, while Speed rejoins the program after not playing for two years and will bring great athleticism, leadership and passion.
K.J. Brooks (6-0, Jr.) is slotted to open at one of the two post spots. A good defender, he is physical and a decent shooter. He’ll be backed by Kendhal Warren (6-2, Jr.), who Sisco calls “the most athletic kid we can put on the floor.”
Sophomore Marcus Haywood (5-11) should get some floor time at one of the forward spots, while Brandon Easley (6-4, Sr.) may or may not rejoin the team after his football responsibilities, according to the coach.
“We’ll still get up and down the court and press and shoot the three,” Sisco said of the style this year’s team will employ. “We aren’t big enough to get into a halfcourt game with the Humboldts and Lake Countys of our district. We have to create turnovers off our press and give ourselves a chance to get some points in transition.
“And I think this group will drastically improve from November until March. They’ll make mistakes and require some patience because of their inexperience and immaturity. But they’ll play hard and I expect good things to happen for them.”
UC opens its season Tuesday night with the first of two Hall of Fame games at home against Jackson South Side.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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