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Panthers shift from gridiron to hardwood

The Georgiana Panthers are shifting gears from the gridiron to the hardwood, and this season’s team has a score to settle.

Last season’s playoff showdown between the then-ranked No. 3 Panthers and the 10th-ranked A.L. Johnson Eagles was a memorable game for many, but no one remembers as well as Georgiana head coach Kirk Norris and his team.

The Panthers were three minutes and 24 seconds away from a trip to Birmingham and the Final Four when Georgiana’s nine-point cushion evaporated in the final moments, leaving the Panthers with a  four-point loss and an early trip home.

“It was a very disappointing loss because we knew the type of team we had and the expectations we had,” Norris said.

“But sometimes a loss can be fuel or motivation a team needs to succeed.  It was very beneficial in that this team knows what it was like to be there, and they are hungry to make it further this season.”

The Panthers aim to start the journey anew minus four members (and three starters)—Jay Williams, Travales Smith, Jeremy Sims and Tarien Crittenden.

Their absence is felt, but a strong returning core of seniors in Jacquez Payton, Richard Boggan and Demarcus Rich are gearing up for their fourth year of varsity play.

“We have some big roles to fill on the team this year,” Norris said.

“It will take some time to see how the team gels and responds to situations, but I am expecting this senior class to lead and rely on their experience.”

Nizaiah Smith and Clarence Curry are returning players that Norris expects will play a big role.

Also, JaMichael Stallworth, Frank Riggins and Daquan Crenshaw provide a threat at the perimeter and give the Panthers some much-needed depth.

The lengthy Georgiana football season prevented a vast majority of the team from participating in practice until this week, but Norris isn’t too concerned with his team’s level of preparation.

“We just started practice this week with the guys that were playing football,” Norris said.

“The non-football players have been getting practice time in since the first allotted day of practice.  It will be a challenge to get ready for the first game with not much preparation time, but that is one reason we spend a lot of time in the summer preparing for the upcoming season.”

The Panthers’ first regular schedule game of the season was originally set for this week with a Georgiana-hosted Thanksgiving tournament, but a team dropped out at the last minute, postponing the tournament indefinitely.

The delay gives the Panthers a bit more time to prepare with the first game now being slated for Dec. 1.

Regardless of when the Panthers hit the hardwood, they have some rather large shoes to fill.

“Expectations are very high, but we are going to take it day by day and one game at a time,” Norris said.

“We have the experience and the talent to be very successful… we just have to put it all together and work as one.”