With six graduating seniors,Will Epps knew he would be losing a great deal from his Laurence Manning Academy boys basketball team that went 26-8 and reached the quarterfinal round of the SCISA 3A state playoffs.
It went a littler farther than …
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It went a littler farther than that though. Three other players, Nazir Andino, Terrell Houston and Cameron Singleton, decided to transfer and are playing significant roles at Crestwood, Lakewood and Sumter high schools, respectively.
Add in injuries to three players that have limited the Swampcats' depth and Epps is happy to have his team off to a 6-2 start this season.
"I think we're doing really good," Epps said. "With these guys having to learn each other better and the injuries that we've been battling, I think we're doing really well."
LMA does have three starters returning from last year. Jerrell Kelly, who is 6-feet-8-inches tall, is back for his fourth season as a starter. Taylor Lee is in his third year starting at point guard and 6-2 Grayson Dennis is back as well.
Kelly is averaging a double-double so far this season with 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game. The 6-0 Lee is averaging 10.0 points and Dennis is at 8.5 points.
Dawson Hatfield, who is 6-3, is averaging 9.0 points after not playing last season. The other starter is 6-1 Chase Lee.
"Dawson is long and athletic," Epps said. "We've got a lot more size than we normally have."
Jake Jordan, Braydon Osteen and Lawrence Fraiser are part of the rotation coming off the bench. When they get healthy, Wyatt Rowland, Brewer Brunson and Terry Moore will be in the mix as well. Rowland has been hampered by a lingering foot injury suffered during football, while Brunson suffered an ankle injury. Moore dislocated a shoulder in the sixth game of the season.
With a bigger squad, Laurence Manning is using a zone much more on defense.
"We're definitely playing more zone than we did last year," Epps said. "We've played a little bit of man-to-man and used some half-court traps. We're learning on the fly what we are good at, but I like to find ways to keep Jerrell close to the basket."
Offensively, the Swampcats are doing what they've done the last several years under Epps.
"We're running a motion-based offense," he said. "We're running a 4-around-1 motion. We try to get the ball inside to Jerrell, but he likes to face up to the basket some too. All we ask is when we pass the ball is move, make a cut, go the basket."
LMA is the defending champion in Region II. The rest of the 4-team region includes Wilson Hall, Orangeburg Prep and Florence Christian.
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