By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Having won the last of the school’s five state boys’ basketball championships in 2008, Union City High School head coach Shane Sisco is turning back the clock in search of a sixth.
The Golden Tornado program — which won 149 games and two Class 1A titles from 2006-10 using a run-and-gun up-tempo style — will return to that mode that worked so well when for the upcoming campaign that begins Thursday night with a trip to Chester County for the first of two Hall of Champions contests.
“Basically, the last two years, we’ve struggled to put the ball in the basket,” said veteran head coach Shane Sisco — 301-119 with a pair of state championships in his 13 years after last year’s 20-11 season that marked his 10th with 20 or more victories. “We defended very well and gave ourselves a chance, but we were just not consistent enough on the offensive end to get back to the state tournament.
“Our best scoring option last year (Peyton Mosley, 14 ppg) was a post-up guy and he graduated. From a skill-set standpoint, we don’t have anybody of his size to replace him. What we do have is some people who have improved their game offensively, who have gotten considerably better shooting and can run the floor. We’ve worked almost exclusively since the end of last season on getting better on the offensive end.
“The big question is, ‘Can we continue to play the type of defense we’ve played the last two defense while playing this style of offense?’”
Union City, which also lost starter Montre Lewis (10 ppg) from a year ago, returns a wealth of experience from a team that was beaten in the regional semifinals by Lake County with as many as a half-dozen players back who started at one time or another.
The majority of those players are still underclassmen, meaning growing pains will still be abundant.
The most experienced of those returnees is point-guard Jamie Hyde (5-7, Jr.), a starter at some point in each of his previous two varsity seasons.
Sisco says Hyde — largely a playmaker in the past — has improved offensively and remains the team’s best ball-handler and defender.
Donte Simpson (5-10, Soph.) is penciled in a the shooting guard spot after getting considerable playing time as a freshman. Athletic and a “slasher” to the bucket, Simpson will be challenged to improve his defense on the perimeter and help with rebounding with the absence of a true big man in the middle.
Two more sophomores — who along with Simpson helped the Union City Middle School squad to an unbeaten season and the sectional championship two years — gained seasoning as freshman contributors last season and will be a part of the frontcourt mix as starters.
Marcus DeBerry (6-3) and Malik Stockdale (6-0) are slated to open at the four- and five-spots, respectively.
With great length physically and a deadly shooting eye, DeBerry has the opportunity to become the best shooter Sisco has ever coached, the UC skipper insisted. “He’s really worked hard at getting away from being just a stand-still shooter and he’s gotten much better at getting his shot off,” Sisco said.
Stockdale appears to have overcome some health issues that slowed him some as a ninth-grader and should cause Tornado opponents issues with his versatility. “Malik can go into the post some, and will be there some, but he’s also very capable of stepping out on the perimeter and making shots and giving us some room to do some things inside by attacking the basket,” Sisco said. “He’ll have to rebound, too, and he can do that.”
LeMonte Dickerson (Sr., 5-9) was a ball of positive energy for the Purple and Gold last season and is expected to again provide that passion and inspired play this year when he starts at the three-spot.
“He’s strong and he’s gotten more consistent at putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket as well as improved his 3-point shooting in the offseason,” his coach stated.
While depth is admittedly a concern, Sisco said Kheric Brooks (Jr., 5-9) will back up Hyde at the lead guard and is a good shooter and passer. Javonte Moffatt (5-10, Soph.) will spell Simpson and is called “hard-nosed and a good defender,” by Sisco.
In the frontcourt, Khiry Lewis (6-0, Sr.), Jakyron Burnside (6-4, Sr.) and Marquille Spears (6-4, Sr.) will all get playing time in reserve roles.
All are athletic, run the floor well and will be counted on in the rebounding department.
“The question of if we can do the things defensively that we need to do and still play this style will fall on me,” Sisco said. “The last four years, our Achilles heel has been our inability to score, and we’ve spent very little time in the offseason doing anything but trying to improve ourselves on the offensive end. We can’t just hope to outscore people, though. We have to defend, and defend well.
“The coaches prior to me, and I’m including Daddy (UC assistant coach Marty Sisco who won Class 2A titles in 1990, ’92 and ’97), Coach (Harry) Ferguson and Coach (Fred) Gamblin, have set the bar very high at Union City High School. In the last four years, we’ve had some good wins and three 20-win seasons, but when you’re school has won five state titles, success is measured a little differently. Once you’ve done it (won a state championship), it becomes expected. I embrace that challenge and hope we can get back to where we’ve been before.”
Sisco called South Fulton “the team to beat” with the Red Devils’ returnees from a year ago and also said perennial favorites Lake County and Humboldt would also again be challengers for the District 14A title.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.14.12