2020-21 was a monumental year for the Commerce boys basketball team because the Tigers snapped a lengthy state playoff drought, and were nine points shy of making a run to the second round.
The success from last year has brought a new level of confidence to Commerce basketball. Head coach Russ Gregg says his team finally expects to win.
“When I took over here, they expected to lose,” Gregg said. “As sad as that is to say, they expected to lose. Even though we did not win a lot of games last year, all of our games were close. We were relatively young at the guard spot.
“Now, we don’t expect to lose, we expect to win. You can’t go into it any other way. I’m excited about that.”
Commerce is still a young team, its leaders are mostly juniors. But the Tigers are an experienced team. Many of those juniors have plenty of starting varsity experience and were integral to the playoff run last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jackson Morris, Jr: Morris, the point guard, enters his third year as a starter. He’s very familiar with Gregg’s system. Gregg praises Morris’s offensive prowess but noted the junior still has some room to grow on defense.
Cayden Lord, Jr: Lord has the potential to score in bunches on any given night. His season-high last year was 32 points and Gregg expects even more production this year.
Matthew Simpson, Jr: Despite Simpson being just a junior, Gregg highlighted the leadership he showed last season. Simpson was even a team captain in 2020-21.
Jansen Morris, Jr: Morris averaged 15 points a game playing junior varsity ball last year. Gregg believes that shooting prowess can translate to the varsity game now that Morris is an upperclassman.
Shooting, specifically from the guards is where Commerce excels. Because of the Tigers’ lack of height, they rely on outside shooting to generate a large percentage of their points. The guards were up to the task last year and Gregg thinks they’ll be up to the task again this year.
Team unity was also listed as a strength by Gregg.
“These kids have been playing together since fourth and fifth grade, and it shows,” he said. ‘They’re juniors right now, we have a lot to build on. We have a few seniors who have been in the program. They know to do things.”
Because of the Tigers’ lack of size, Commerce needs to find a way to get the ball to its side of the court. That means grabbing more rebounds and forcing turnovers.
“We’ve got to do a better job of preventing second-chance points,” he said. “We’re going to have to force a lot of turnovers because we don’t have size. We’re working on that and different kinds of presses and ways to attack.”
REGION 8-A PUBLIC OUTLOOK
Towns County won the region title and the A Public State Championship last season, but Gregg believes Social Circle to be the favorite to win the titles this year. Washington-Wilkes is the other team he believes will pose the biggest challenge in region play.
“Outside of those two, Towns County lost a lot, Lincoln County lost a lot, as did Greene County,” he said. “Our goal is to make it to the state tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. That’s what we’re working towards right now.”