Youth movement for Cavaliers

Published 11:46 pm Thursday, January 11, 2018

By Kevin Eckleberry

He figured the best thing to do was to throw them into the fire.

As a new season approached, Callaway boys’ basketball head coach Terry Hayes knew he had some talented, but inexperienced players on the roster.

Rather than ease those players in gradually, Hayes put them in the lineup from the start to get them some valuable on-the-job training.

When Callaway opened its season against LaGrange, three of the five starters were either freshmen or sophomores.

As the season has gone along, that youth movement has only intensified.

Six of the players who receive significant playing time are freshmen or sophomores, with seniors DQ Wilkerson, Kedrick Ramsey and Kobe Jackson providing a veteran presence.

Among the inexperienced players are two freshmen, Demetrius Coleman and Ja’Vontay Boddie, who have been in the lineup since day one.

Sophomores Duke Simpson, Antinez Blount, Kindae Maddox and Blake Miles also get a great deal of playing time.

Due in part to that inexperience, the Cavaliers lost their first nine games, although they were competitive in most of them.

On Tuesday, Callaway got its long-awaited breakthrough win when it beat Jordan 78-74 in a Region 5-AA game.

Coleman, a gifted freshman guard, torched Jordan for 31 points while making all 16 of his free-throw attempts.

“We thought we were going to pull it out” Coleman said. “We played the whole first half and the whole second half. We just kept maintaining the way we were playing.”

Hayes believes the team that was on the court against Jordan is light years ahead of the one that opened the season against LaGrange more than a month ago.

“They’ve made a lot of progress,” Hayes said. “It’s night and day. You can run a play, they’re not scared to take the ball to the goal, we’re playing defense. They’re not as hesitant as they were at the start. They’re growing up a little bit.”

The two freshmen, Coleman and Boddie, arrived in high school after helping lead Callaway Middle School to back-to-back unbeaten seasons.

As talented as both players are, it is nonetheless a massive leap from middle school to high school.

Coleman and Boddie combined for 10 points in that first game against LaGrange.

“I was real nervous,” Coleman said. “It was a big crowd.”

Boddie figured basketball is basketball, and he was ready to go.

“I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I’m just out there playing my game, doing what I do.”

Both players have settled in since that LaGrange game and have been consistent double-digit scorers.

Boddie’s best game came in a loss to Greenville when he made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points.

Coleman had 20 points in a region loss to Lamar County last week before exploding for 31 points against Jordan.

Coleman also took a charge in the final minute when Jordan had an opportunity to take the lead.

While Coleman may be a budding superstar, Hayes said he has been a model player who just wants to get better.

“He’s humble, he listens, he’s coachable,” Hayes said. “He listens to you, and then he asks you questions. Some talk before they hear.”

Boddie said after each loss the team returned to practice and was committed to delivering a better performance the next time out.

“We just knew we needed to do a little bit better, work on what we needed to work on in practice so we could do it in a game, and maybe we would win,” Boddie said.

While many of Callaway’s players are getting their first taste of varsity basketball, they do know how to play with one another.

They played together at Callaway Middle under coach Kerry Woodard and enjoyed tremendous success.

Coleman said that familiarity “helps a lot.”

“We know what each other is capable of doing,” Coleman said. “We just try to do what we’re supposed to do.”

Callaway will look to make it two in a row today with a win over Spencer before returning home to play Greenville on Saturday.

Sam Cotton, an assistant coach at Callaway, said the season has gone on long enough that the young players should be much more comfortable on the court.

“I told then y’all have played 10 games,” Cotton said. “You might be a ninth-grader, or you might be a sophomore.

“But we look at you as being a veteran now. You have that many games, clean it up a little bit, and learn along the way. I tell them all the time, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”