The Sonoraville Phoenix boys basketball team returns to the hardwood with one mission in mind: state playoffs.
“All that really starts with hard work,” Phoenix head coach Brent Mashburn said. “We have a group of guys that have really committed to getting better during the summer. They’ve put in the time and work, and ... you want to see that pay off and turn into the results you’re looking for during the season.”
Two years ago, the Phoenix finished the 2017-18 season with a 23-5 record, making it into the state playoffs.
Last year, Sonoraville completed the year below .500, failing the qualify for the postseason.
This year, it’s a new-look Phoenix team, with six seniors departing the program. Mashburn said, at times, five of the six seniors started games.
“We really lost all of our starters in some form or fashion,” Mashburn said. “I think you face some challenges when you lose a larger group of guys who contributed the previous year, but ... the kids ... know the opportunity is there to step up and contribute this year. I think they’re excited about the opportunity and I think that goes back to their competitive nature and the way they practice and play.”
The 2019-2020 Sonoraville roster features four seniors, six juniors and one freshman.
Mashburn said he expects the Phoenix to compete.
“They practice hard, which I think will translate into playing hard,” Mashburn said. “I like tough, hard-nosed kids that will get after it and compete. They’re going to show up everyday and they’re going to work hard and they’re going to leave it all out there.”
Mashburn noted during the 2018-19 season, the Phoenix played more zone defense than in the past, given the makeup of the team. This season, Mashburn looks to return to more man-to-man defense.
“A lot of it is based on your personnel and things you do well, but that’s a place I think we can get better with how we compete on the defensive end of the floor,” Mashburn said. “The better you are defensively, the better you can create offense for yourself.”
Mashburn said through his squad’s practices so far, the greatest stride has been players stepping up and starting to assume leadership roles.
“I think I’ve seen several guys grow and understand and accept that kind of added expectation or pressure that we’re going to have to rely on you guys,” Mashburn said. “I think it will be a fun group to coach and a fun group to watch play. They’re looking forward to the opportunity of having that burden of our success fall on them.”
Schedule-wise, the Phoenix will travel to Pickens County High School after Christmas for the Pickens Holiday Tournament.
Region play begins Dec. 5 when the Phoenix face Calhoun in the 53 Frenzy “Hoops Edition.”
Mashburn, entering season No. 14, said the most important aspect of coaching he’s learned is that it’s not always about having the most talented players on the floor is the only pathway to success.
“It’s putting together the group that is selfless, that hard work, that play well together that can give you the most success as a team,” Mashburn said. “I think, as coaches, sometimes we get hung up on the fact that this kid’s talented, and talent by all means is important and helps, but you can go a long way with a group that is willing to do whatever’s asked of them to get the job done.”