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December 13, 2013

PREP BASKETBALL: Jones, new-look Warriors finding their groove

WEST POINT — Losing four senior starters off a 20-win squad is enough to make any basketball coach question his profession.

Throw in an ACL injury to one of your key returnees and March Madness suddenly begins a few months earlier than expected with a whole different meaning.

However, what might be considered a nightmare to several coaches around the state is just another challenge for Randy Jones and his West Point varsity boys team.

“I knew there were going to be some growing pains for us early on in the season,” the coach said. “Tristan (Dubberly) and Ryder (Jones) were the only ones with varsity experience, so we had to lean on them. The others are coming around, though.”

Following a 1-3 start, the Warriors have picked up the pace by winning six of its last eight games and have quickly become one of the top teams in the county thus far.

Dubberly and Jones are a big reason why, too.

The former has taken over the scoring and leadership roles left by Jordan McKenzie — who tore his ACL back in the summer — while the latter has been a critical key inside for the Warriors on both ends of the floor.

“Those two aren't really the most vocal leaders, but they lead by example,” Jones said. “They get out there and do what they are supposed to do to get the job done. They’ve had calmness on the floor with these young players around them.

Both Dubberly (a senior) and Jones (a junior) were key players off the bench for the 2012 squad. However, with the departure of seniors Josh Looney, Kris Keller, Nick Nuss and Wesley Smith, among others, the duo has been forced into a bigger role so far for the Maroon and White.

And while things didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts, it’s since gotten quite a bit better for Dubberly and company.

Gone as of now are the lame third quarters and the blown leads in the game's final minutes.

“We’re coming around,” Dubberly said. “I knew when Jordan got hurt that I’d have to step up and be a good leader. We started out a little slow, but we are playing pretty good ball right now I think.”

Dubberly, along with many other Warriors, are finally becoming acclimated to the basketball court after many a practice and a brutal Class 5A football schedule that ended right before tip-off.

“It’s taken us a good while,” Dubberly said of the transition. “Basketball is just so much quicker and you get less breaks. It’s taken me a few weeks to really get used to it.”

Added Ryder: “Football takes away your shot a little bit. We’ve sort of got that back now. When we do, teams won’t be able to double me because they’ll have to guard the perimeter, too.”

Despite the young faces and new look, one thing is certain for West Point.

It plans on being the best team in the county when the season comes to a close.

With Bryant Farley, Will Wrenn and Levi Laney collecting critical minutes — along with McKenzie's expected return in mid-January — the Warriors can’t wait to see how their year unfolds over the next few months.

“We're still young,” Ryder said. “Everyone is going to learn and get better. They’re still a little nervous right now, but we are playing well and should be really good at the end of the year.”

West Point will travel to Cullman for an area battle tonight.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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