Juniors in charge for Rockets

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Boys team deep, athletic but no seniors on roster

By Todd Martin

Last season the Rockets put together the schools' most successful season in 30 years when they returned to the semifinals of the Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.

However, the team graduated four seniors, three that started. That group only led the team in every statistical category.

"What we did last year was pretty special," SCHS Coach Mike Clark said. "Down five in the regional finals and come back to win, and then to play our best basketball at the State Tournament was definitely exciting."

Those four seniors made up a group that was a very smart team, but this year's group may be a more athletic team. With seven returning juniors, the Rockets have experience and add to that a talented group of sophomores and a highly touted eighth-grader and the Rockets have depth. What they don't have is a senior on the bench, at all.

But Clark said the lack of a senior won't hurt the team.

"We have several players that can draw from the experience of last year," he said. "All six of our juniors got time last year, and I'm going to ask them to step up and show that leadership just like I would a group of seniors."

That group of juniors will anchor the team's rotation, led by sixth-man Donovan Johnson, guards Boomer Beckley and Cache Tomlinson and center Nigel Beach. Clark will also move fellow juniors Matt Purdom and Eric Standafer into the fulltime rotation this year.

"We're going to play an eight-man rotation most every game," he said. "But when the situation dictates, or when we get the opportunity, we can go nine or 10 deep on our bench."

Clark said he'll likely have Standafer and Beach together in the post along with Johnson on the wing and guards Beckley and Tomlinson outside. Those two guards split time at the point last season, but Clark said the Rockets will move Tomlinson over to the shooting guard this year. That gives the Rockets two very capable and experienced ball handlers in the backcourt.

With Johnson on the wing, the Rockets will have one of the top backcourts in the region.

As the sixth-man last season, Johnson was fourth on the team, averaging about seven points a game, and he also picked up four rebounds and almost two assists a game. However, Clark expects the junior to make a bigger impact this season.

"Donovan has big time high school ability both inside and out," he said. "Last year he'd play in four or five minute stretches, but this year we're gong to expect a lot more from him.

"He'll play extended minutes, and his versatility makes him dangerous. He can play three positions and he can score, but we really need him to up his rebounds to seven or eight a game.

"If he can rebound and defend consistently throughout the game, then we're going to be a much better team."

Purdom and Anthony Payton will be called upon to come off the bench for the Rockets this season. Payton, a sophomore, didn't play for the Rockets last season, but Clark said he's been a welcome addition in the paint.

Also coming off the bench will be eighth-grader Darryl Hicks. At 6-2 already, Clark said the youngster can play either the off-guard or small forward position, and he hopes he can fill in at the point as the season progresses.

"He's the rare player that can physically handle varsity basketball as an eighth grader," Clark said. "He's well equipped, skill-wise, to help us this year."