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Tip time for Troup basketball team

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It’s tip time for the Troup High boys’ basketball team.

Troup, under the direction of fourth-year head coach Blake Craft, will open its season with a pair of games in the Sweet South Classic at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens.

Troup will play Woodland on Friday at 8 p.m. to open the season, and it will take on East Jackson at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Tigers began summer workouts in June and official preseason practice started earlier this month, and Craft is glad to get to the start line.

“The kids have been working extremely hard, and they’re excited to go see somebody new,” Craft said. “You’re seeing the same guys over and over again at practice, and we finally get to see somebody else.”

Troup has qualified for the state tournament all three seasons with Craft at the helm, and it lost to Blessed Trinity in the first round last season after finishing third in the Region 5-AAAA tournament.

Craft is having to replace five seniors, including Camren O’Neal (Atlanta Warriors), Qua Johnson (Brevard College) and Gabe Cofield (LaGrange College), who signed letters of intent to play basketball in college, while Trey Williams signed a football scholarship with Shorter.

The other senior, Isaiah Cox, was also a key player, while starter Jaquavious Whitfield has transferred to Callaway for his sophomore season.

The only returning players with significant varsity playing time are seniors KJ Tucker, Ricco Person and Gabe Stepp.

“We’ve got a lot of seniors, but as far as varsity experience, we only have KJ Tucker, Ricco, and Gabe Stepp,” Craft said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors, but those are the only ones that have true varsity experience.”

Among those players is Tucker, who missed the 2018-2019 season after getting injured in a car wreck, but he returned last season and was one of Troup’s leading scorers.

“KJ Tucker, you look at what he went through his sophomore year in a car accident, and he didn’t know if he’d be able to walk again,” Craft said. “He’s one of those guys you just want to cheer for.”

Tucker, Craft added, is someone he has complete trust in.

“I haven’t given many people a green light (to shoot). He’s got a green light,” Craft said. “He’s going to make the right basketball play. It’s fun to watch that.”

While some of the other players haven’t performed in varsity games, Craft believes they have what it takes to succeed.

“That sophomore class is extremely talented,” Craft said. “The sophomores have earned the respect of these older guys. We’ll probably go tomorrow and start two sophomores.”

Some other players will join the basketball team when football season ends, including Marquavious Kelley, Zy Varner and KJ Tucker, who have previous varsity experience.

Craft will be helped out by two new assistant coaches this season, LaGrange High graduates Justyn Olson and Mike Hardy.

Troup’s girls’ team will open its season in the Parkview Tip-Off Classic on Monday and Tuesday.

Troup will play Langston Hughes on Monday at 4 p.m., and Collins Hill on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Troup is coming off a memorable season that nearly ended with a loss to Americus-Sumter in the Class AAAA state-title game.