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Mobile-area basketball coaches preview season at Team Focus Tip-Off Event

LeFlore coach Jeffrey Pope is hoping his team can finish the season stronger than it did a year ago. (Mike Kittrell | preps@al.com)

A large number of high school basketball coaches from the Mobile and Baldwin County areas were on hand at Dreamland Bar-B-Que earlier this week to preview their seasons and also discuss the benefits of Team Focus, a popular program geared to helping boys and young men who are growing up without fathers.

It was the first time for the event, which was billed as a Media Day for prep basketball coaches.

“We had a meeting with the basketball coaches and we told them about the benefits of Team Focus,” said Mike Gottfried, who helped form the organization. “We just wanted to tell them what is available, and they are enthusiastic about what we are doing. We’re asking them for their help in identifying prospects for leadership.”
University of Mobile basketball coach Joe Niland, along with Gottfried and his brother Joe —the former athletic director at the University of South Alabama — spoke at the event.

The coaches in attendance also discussed the season, which has been underway about two weeks.

“We’re just expecting growth,” said Robertsdale head coach Marshall Davis.

Senior guard Caden Willingham and junior point guard John Kelley are expected to provide leadership for the Golden Bears. Robertsdale has a very busy schedule, including hosting a huge Thanksgiving tournament on November 20-22.

LeFlore’s girls, meanwhile, have gotten off to a 3-0 start, but have only nine players on the team. Of those nine, seven of them are seniors. According to head coach Darrell Walton, the key players are Daisha Bradford, Ashia Jenkins and Deja Woodard.

“I think it’s going to be our Achilles Heel in case something happens,” he said. “But the players we have back are very good. They grew up together from ninth grade on up, and those three were part of the team that won the state championship in 2016. We got the talent, but it’s just the depth."

Walton felt that the reason for diminishing numbers is a lack of commitment and a shrinking number of players from available feeder schools.

“They want to play, but when they see what they have to be committed to, they draw back from it,” he said. “Our feeder program is lacking, and we’re only getting players from Booker T. Washington and Calloway right now."

Meanwhile, LeFlore’s boys hope to put a disappointing 2016-17 season behind them. The Rattlers lost to Saraland in the Class 6A, Area 1 tournament, and coach Jeffery Pope is hoping for a better ending this time around. The Rattlers, as well as with some of the other local teams, will participate in the Holiday Classic at Bishop State in December.

“I guess it has been an interesting season once you think about how last season ended with Saraland,” he said. “We got out to somewhat of a strong start this year in the first game against Davidson.”

DeAntoni Gordon, a Wichita State University commit, and Nicholas Spriggs are two seniors that the Rattlers are pinning big hopes on this season.

While LeFlore’s boys hope for a happier ending in the playoffs, Chickasaw, a Class 2A school, is basically rebuilding.

The Chieftains lost eight seniors from last year’s team and, of the 14 players on this year’s team, only four of them have significant playing time.

One of the key returners, A.J. Phillips, is currently sidelined as a result of a football injury. But Deonte Sanders and Ian Martinez are back, and will be relied on to provide leadership. In addition, there are some junior varsity players that will also help.

As far as area games, head coach Ricky Ruffin said that the key match-ups will be against St. Luke’s and J.U. Blacksher.

“They’ll be very, very, good, so we’ll have our work cut out for us,” he said. “We’re confident that we can compete with anybody. We’re just going to have to bear down and get better as the season goes.”

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