Panthers defend home turf in season opener

Published 1:16 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Georgiana junior Jamichael Stallworth accounted for nearly half of the Panthers' total Friday night with 35 points as Georgiana defeated J.F. Shields.

Georgiana junior Jamichael Stallworth accounted for nearly half of the Panthers’ total Friday night with 35 points as Georgiana defeated J.F. Shields.

The burden of expectation is greater than it has ever been for Georgiana’s basketball program.

Hot off the heels of the varsity boys’ Class 1A state championship finals appearance, the community of Georgiana remains eager for a rematch.

If Friday night’s home opener against a drastically improved J.F. Shields team is any indication, the Panthers are willing to carry the weight.

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The Georgiana Panthers defeated J.F. Shields Panthers 80-58, though the final score betrayed a hard-fought first half fight from the visiting team.

Georgiana head basketball coach Kirk Norris said that he suspected a battle between last year’s contenders for the area championship could make for a tough home opener, and doubly so considering the losses from last year’s stellar state runners-up team.

“With the loss of five seniors—three of them starters—I knew we would still be looking to see where we are and what we need to improve on,” Norris said.

“It was a good win over a good team. We’ve got a lot still to improve on and work on. We’re still identifying roles, and having some guys step up and do more than they did last year. We’ve got guys from the B-team that didn’t play varsity last year. It takes a game or two to find out your team’s identity.”

It isn’t talent that this season’s Panthers squad lacks, but rather experience. Losing Georgiana alumni Richard Boggan, Demarcus Rich and Jacquez Payton, all former four-year starters with hundreds of games’ worth of experience on the court, will certainly impact this year’s team.

But Norris said that this season’s quest isn’t only a search for another shot at the state title, but also a search for leadership.

“Those seniors are gone, so it’s got to be new guys to take charge,” Norris said.” “Sometimes, that’s an adjustment period for some kids to find out who’s going to take charge and do the things day-in and day-out that we need to do to be successful.”

Jamichael Stallworth seemed to be that person Friday night, leading all players with 35 points.

“I want to say that’s more than any one player we had last year,” Norris added.

“It’s great, and he had a heck of a game and did a lot for us offensively. Any time you can get that, it’s a positive, but I don’t think you can be successful by relying on one person every night to score 30+ for you. You can’t expect him to put that up every night, so we’ve got to have other guys step in, do their thing and play well.”

Fortunately, with three other players reaching double-digits—including DeAarion Squaire, Keinderus Mobley and Torey Rudolph—the pieces of the puzzle are in place.

And though the expectations are high, Norris said that the trick to reaching the end goal is to keep one’s eyes on the immediate obstacle ahead.

“It’s a good and a bad thing, because there’s a lot more pressure and people are expecting you to do what you did before,” Norris said. “But you kind of create that yourself with the success you have. We’re just taking it one day at a time. They know it’s there, and that the eyes are on them and what people expect. And I think it’s also good because it’s a challenge. It’s not going to be easy for them when everyone knows that they’re looking for them to be back in Birmingham.

“But we have to look at it one game at a time. We’re not looking past area or region play. We’re just looking at what we have to do to win the next game.”

The Panthers will travel to Greenville to face the Tigers Saturday.