By Reid Bankston
After a remarkable turnaround 2007-2008 season that saw the Water Valley Blue Devils come within eight seconds and two points of the second round of the playoffs, third year head coach John Sherman returns a squad wealthy with experience.
“The first two years, we only had one senior per year, so the core of this group has been sophomores when I first got here. They took their lumps as sophomores, but they held together and last year we thought we took a big positive step. We won 17 ball games and learned a lot of things,” said Sherman.
“This year, we feel like we’ve got a chance, we’ve got a seasoned ball club and like I told them, when you’ve got five seniors, that should show on the court with leadership and experience.”
Leading that group of five seniors is A.J. Folson and Benny Weekley, two experienced players that Sherman and the rest of the Blue Devils will be counting on heavily throughout the season. The duo of Folson and Weekley combined for 32 points and 17 rebounds in Water Valley’s season opening victory against Charleston.
“We’ve got more basketball ability than we’ve ever had before,” said Sherman. “This summer, I sat our seniors down to talk to them about their leadership, this is their team.”
To compliment Weekley and Folson, the Blue Devils will likely find a third scorer in sophomore Mckendrick Bonds, a player who Sherman says provides a “steadiness” to the offense. With several players being able to contribute from the perimeter, Water Valley will need Weekley, Bonds, and Marshall Academy transfer Matt Dalton to provide heady play in the backcourt.
“Offensively we’re going to move the ball around. It’s just basic basketball, we’re looking to make some shots and play some defense,” said Sherman. “We’ve got some scorers and some shooters. If we defend, we’ll put up some good numbers. We feel like we’ve got some kids that can score and shoot.”
Partnering Folson in the lane will likely be junior D’ante Rogers, a transfer from Senatobia. Rogers, who hasn’t played basketball since his freshman year, should combine well with Folson to dominate the paint. If that partnership comes to fruition, the Blue Devils could top last year’s 17-15 record.
“He (Rogers) can make a difference in the lane and help us with rebounding and scoring in the paint,” said Sherman. “We’ve just got to bring him along; he hasn’t played basketball since the ninth grade.”
Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Blue Devils, as Weekley and Folson are as good a scoring duo as there is in the region. If Water Valley can shore up their man to man defense, the Blue Devils could make a run into the postseason.
“We hope to take another good positive step in the rebuilding process of this program,” said Sherman. “They’ve seen the fruits of their labor. They got a little taste of the playoffs last year and they liked it. Now, they want a bigger piece of the pie.”