SEASON PREVIEW: GEORGE JUNIOR
The only loss George Junior suffered last year was off the court -- a ruling by District 10 and the PIAA saying the Tigers couldn't compete in postseason play due to questionable enrollment figures that were submitted during a previous cycle.
Other than that, the Tigers were unstoppable, compiling a 23-0 record. However, a perfect regular season could be a little bit more difficult for GJR this year. The Tigers are playing in the state's highest classification -- Quad-A.
"It's going to be a big challenge," said GJR coach Bob McConnell, who enters his fifth season with a 120-28 mark. "It's more physical, there's a lot more size, probably even better coaching, not to take anything away from the double-A coaches. You're looking at guys who have a lot more experience and have been around a lot longer."
Despite having a stellar regular season and postseason record, including a pair of state titles, McConnell is not ready to put himself in the same class as the George Abrahams (Butler) and John Sarandreas (New Castle) -- Quad-A coaches who have big-time reputations.
"I feel like I'm a young guy," McConnell said. "When you look around, it seems that the coaches in Quad-A have a lot more experience. I think I'm ready to get the team prepared to play at that level. But I don't put myself in the class of any of those guys yet."
But those are the coaches the Tigers will be facing. The move up two classifications means a tougher schedule, namely in the postseason. Therefore, along with 10 games against Mercer County Athletic Conference Class AA and AAA opponents, GJR is forced to hit the road.
Among the teams the Tigers play are: Williamsport, Northland, Ohio, Schenley, Cincinnati Withrow, East Liverpool, Penn Hills, Youngstown Rayen and Akron St. Vincent. GJR play two "home games" at Slippery Rock University and two games at Youngstown State University. There are also games at Cincinnati State and the Canton Civic Center. Only six games will be held on campus.
"When we looked at our personnel in the summer we felt like we had the opportunity, not only to be competitive, but to do something special," McConnell said. "That's why we went out and scheduled how we did. We play Akron St. Vincent who is ranked in the country. We play Withrow, which is one of the best teams in Ohio. East Liverpool is a perennial power. ... Schenley, which is the best team in the west right now. We felt like we needed to go out and play against real good competition. That's what we've always wanted to do here, we were always strapped with league games."
McConnell has seven seniors, four of whom are lettermen at his disposal.
The biggest loss was John Hollingsworth, the stellar point guard who led the team in scoring with 23 points per game. Also gone are Preston Bazemore (11.4 ppg) and Robert Wiley (10.4).
But easing the transition are 6-6 forward Roger Randolph, last year's second-leading scorer (15.6), and 6-3 forward Tyrique Glasgow (9.4).
"Roger was our best inside guy last year and has gotten a lot better and stronger," McConnell said. "Tyrique started some games at the end of last season and got a lot of experience."
Other seniors include: 6-1 guard Matt Anderer and 6-4 center Joe Austin, both of whom lettered, 6-1 guard Khyree Nixon, 6-7, 240-pound center Karl Holmes and 6-0 guard Bradley Warner. Another key player for McConnell could be 6-3 sophomore forward Cannon White, who saw some action last year.
"These guys have really worked hard from the get-go," McConnell said. "Since we started they've been together. They're old, my top seven guys are seniors, with Cannon White my only underclassman who will get a lot of playing time. They're all real important. At the level we're playing against, it's important that they all take care of business and aren't immature on the court."
McConnell will be assisted by Brian Danilov and Derryck VanCobb.
"This year compared to any other year I have assistants who have some experience," McConnell said. "Brian came over from Ursuline and spent time at Campbell where they won a state championship. He has about 10 years of coaching experience. And VanCobb has been his assistant for five years. That's a huge load off my back. Together, I think they'll make the adjustment to Quad-A much easier. They've done a tremendous job so far." -- By Herald writer Brad Isles
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