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December 10, 2013

Basketball season finally starts for Indians

TIFTON — By December, nearly everyone has an indication of what the year is going to bring. That is, unless that team is the Irwin County Indians. They only made their regular season debut against Echols County Tuesday night, thanks to the lateness of the football season. They play again Friday at home against Lanier County.

Jared Luke said practices began for his girls in October, which has mean they are certainly up for game action. For one thing, "they're ready to scrimmage someone other than themselves."

There is good and bad news for longtime boys head coach Chuck Folker. As most of his players donned the pad, they won't need much of jump start to get into basketball shape. The bad news is that he is having to work through injuries sustained during the season, including to point guard Jakyron Young. He has been hampered by an ankle injury. "We're trying to get Jakyron healthy," he said.

Last year was a remarkable season for the Lady Indians. They made their first state tournament since 2002 and won over 20 games. Luke believes it to be their most victories in almost 30 years.

They graduated four players from that squad. All four were starters, meaning that it will be up to the lone returnee, senior Keisha Cobb, to carry the load. She averaged 12.8 points per game last season and 6 rebounds and was named first team all-region for 2-A.

The team will also be relying on junior point guard Shayon Bryant and senior Dacia Graham, who is a post. Luke said Bryant played lots of minutes last year as the team's 6th man. Graham has been on the team all four years.

He is also waiting on Rodeisha Eady, a junior who tore her ACL last year and is waiting to be cleared by the doctor. Eady has started in the past and averaged 11 points as a sophomore.

Luke said they're " real young and real green, but they listen to everything I have to say."

If anyone has a younger team than Luke, it's Folker. Antwuane Merritt is the lone senior. "We're pretty much led by him," he said.

Chaveka Hardy is expected to be the replacement at point guard until Young is ready to return. Daniel Smith, who averaged about 16 points per game last year, returns to the lineup. He is also counting on Kameron Williams, freshman Zach Poler and another first-year player, junior Bernard Pitts.

"We don't have any real size," he said. "But we do have a lot of speed and athletic ability and we're going to try to outrun our opponents."

The Indians last went to state in 2006, also under Folker.

Both coaches agree that Region 2-A looks to be a tough one.

"Turner County's always a powerhouse," said Luke "and they look to be a frontrunner again. Clinch is always there, Charlton looks to be really good and really solid."

Folker, too, worries about Turner. "We'll have to have a real good night against Turner," he said. "They're going to be strong. Wilcox will be decent, Lanier will be decent."

He said the Indians are not ready just yet to take everyone on, but that is just a matter of time.

"We can compete against anybody with some practice."

Outside of the usual region opponents, Irwin will be taking on arch-rival Fitzgerald in regular season games. They will also play in the Christmas tournament at Cook Dec. 20-21, but Luke had not heard who their opponents would be.

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