The Briarwood Academy basketball teams will open the 2005 basketball season by participating in the Garden City Classic tournament beginning Thursday, Dec. 1, in Augusta.
The Lady Bucs, who have won the tournament two of the past three years, will face Augusta Christian School at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Augusta Christian in the opening round of the tourney.
The Runnin' Bucs will also face Augusta Christian, immediately after the girls game.
"This is late on a school day to be playing basketball," said the Runnin' Bucs new coach, Christian Tiller, of the scheduled 8:30 game. "If there's an overtime game or anyone gets off schedule, we're looking at a 9 o'clock game."
The eight teams in the tournament will play each day of the three-day tournament with all of the games held at an Augusta location. The championship game for the girls will be played at noon on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Augusta State University gymnasium. The boys championship game will follow. All other games will be played at either Augusta Christian or Augusta Prep.
"It's a good way to start off the season," Lady Bucs' coach Clayton Parrish said. "We play three games no matter what, and they get three games of tournament experience. It's a lot different playing in a tournament, and it's really good for them to have had this experience when they get to the region tournament."
Having graduated six seniors who accounted for 85 percent of the team's total offense last year, this year's Lady Bucs are short on experience. However, the team is not totally without experience. All-Region player Katie Reese is expected to be a mainstay of the team as is senior Beth Gerlach and sophomore Cassie Pickrell, who both saw a great deal of playing time last year.
What the girls might be lacking in experience they're making up with hard work, according to Coach Parrish.
"I'm really happy how hard this group, as a whole, works," Coach Parrish said. "Sometimes they're so aggressive that I wonder how they're going to get along, but they get along well. They'll knock each other down, and then pick each other up.
"There does seem to be a learning curve in the group because of the inexperience," Coach Parrish said of the team, which has three seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen. "A lot of the girls are so inexperienced and so young, They've got the athletic ability, but they've just got a lot to learn in a short period of time, and it's going to take a while for them to get into the swing of things."
The team's third senior, Melisa Newsome, is an example of this, according to Coach Parrish, who said he expects her to contribute to the success of the team before the season's over.
"She a senior with a lot of athletic ability, but she hasn't played ball in high school," he said. "It's going to take her a while to get into the swing of things."
The Lady Bucs will open the tournament and the season playing Augusta Christian, the team they defeated in last year's tournament championship game."They're known for having a real athletic team with a lot of speed," said Coach Parrish of Augusta Christian, adding that he doesn't have any specific knowledge of the team or its players.
Other teams competing in the tournament are Augusta Prep, Westminster School of Augusta, Thomas Sumter of Sumter, SC, Dominion Christian of Marietta, Charlotte Christian of Charlotte, NC, and Pinewood Prep of Summerville, SC.
Coach Tiller, who is in his first year as the Runnin' Bucs coach, said the team has been working on conditioning and defense.
"We've been working real hard to get in basketball shape," he said of the players, most of whom came off the football field just two weeks ago. "Every drill we do has some basketball conditioning."
Additionally, Coach Tiller and the Bucs have been getting to know each other.
"They're learning about me, and I'm learning about them," he said. "I think they're learning my expectations.
"I'm a firm believer in taking care of what you can control and improvising on what you can't. As long as we can take care of what we can control, I think we'll be alright," he said.
Being a new coach has its advantages in that everyone on the team, not just the top players, have to work daily on learning the basics as well as the specifics of Coach Tiller's offensive and defensive schemes.
"I think it's going to benefit the whole team," he said. "Right now, they're having to think a lot, but soon it will become second nature, and they can just play basketball, not have to think what they're doing."
The Bucs have some experienced players returning in senior Blake Stitcher; juniors Joseph Batrous, David Russell and Seth Williford; and sophomore Dave Joesbury.
"We should be pretty strong," he said, adding that players coming out for the team for the first time such as senior Jason Dunham, junior Kyle Ewest and sophomore Andrew Johnson "are really going to help us out."