Freshmen get call early on for St. Al|[11/06/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Basketball season opens at St. Aloysius Saturday night, one day after a long football season ends. That means a handful of Flash freshmen, who normally would be seeing time on the bench, will instead be called upon to help new coach Larry Smith in his high school debut.

Forward Daniel Tuggle and guard Sean Johnson are two of seven freshmen that Smith will use to rebuild the Flashes program after two seasons of unprecedented success. A group of seniors headed by Chase Smith, John Robert Burnett, Marsh Willis and Chris Johnson led St. Al to a pair of division titles and a combined 43-17 record over the past two seasons.

Last year’s group keyed the Flashes to their first division tournament title and the first South State satellite win in school history. But now they’re gone and it’s up to the young Flashes to step up.

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“I think its going to be great. I’m looking forward to the first game on Nov. 10,” said Tuggle, a 5 foot, 11-inch forward. “A lot of us played on the eighth grade team last year and over this summer I played on the (Vicksburg) AAU team. We’ll eventually get Chip (Donald), Luke (Burnett) and Price (Blagg) back from football, but until then, it’ll be great to get some playing time in.”

Last year’s main reserve, junior forward Alex Lanier, will be counted on to lead the young bunch.

“I’m pretty much going to have the Chase Smith role. Score, get the rebound, and maybe play a little defense,” Lanier said jokingly as the replacement for Smith, who was a three-time All-County selection. Smith led the Flashes with 21.8 points per game last season. He is now in his freshman season as a golfer at Delta State.

Sean Johnson is looking forward to the season as well as one of a handful of 5-foot-6 freshmen guards.

“It’s going to be fun. But I am worried about turnovers. We haven’t done too bad so far. I know it could get bad at some point, but I can’t let it get to me,” Johnson said.

Joining Tuggle and Johnson on the Flashes’ freshmen crew are Matt Dennis, a 5-10 forward; Fisher Campbell, a 5-7 guard; Chris Ingram, a 5-9 guard; Roger Gage, a 5-8 guard; and Ford Biedenharn, a 5-8 guard.

Duffy Loel, a 6-foot guard, is one of only two seniors on the team. Loel transferred to St. Al from Arizona at the start of the spring semester last year.

“I think we can become pretty good. We’re learning a lot from Coach Smith,” Loel said.

Smith has spent 26 years in the NBA — 13 as a player, and the last 13 as a coach for the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers — and a couple of stints with teams from the NBA’s Developmental League. Last year, he was the head coach of the Anaheim Arsenal of the D-League. In August, he coached the D-League’s Ambassador’s in an overseas tournament in Macao, off mainland China.

“Monday was one of the first days we’ve had at least 10 players. We’ve been short-handed and it’s hard to put things in. But the guys have played really hard and it’s been competitive,” Smith said.

Smith’s other senior is the team’s lone returning starter in guard Chip Donald. Donald’s football career was ended after an MRI discovered he had a narrow spinal column. Donald will be able to play this season but doctors have cautioned that he stay out another two to three weeks.

Blagg will give the team some inside size at 6-5 while Burnett joins baseball standout Pierson Waring to give the Flashes a pair of quick sophomore guards.