The future is looking bright for Riverside Military’s basketball team. The present isn’t looking so bad either.
Despite major turnover from last season’s state playoff team, the Eagles are keeping afloat in Region 8A-A largely due to unexpected contributions from their underclassmen.
Riverside, which has qualified for state the past two seasons, came into the season with just one returning starter — post player Tarvin Dukes — and saw other players either dismissed from or quit the team early in the season.
Because of players like freshmen Anfernee Seymour, Jake Weiner and Michael Gallup, and sophomores Adrian Humphrey and Cherokee Toms, the Eagles find themselves in third place in the subregion at 3-3 (5-7 overall) with a chance to qualify for a third-straight state playoff berth.
“We have a commitment to the young kids,” first-year Eagles coach Ron Smith said. “We’ve got a good future here, basketball-wise.”
The Eagles’ leading scorer is Humphrey, who took over the starting point guard role five games into the season after a player quit. After scoring just two points in the first two games, he had a breakout performance in his second start when he scored 20 points in a win over Chestatee. Even more impressive is 12 of those points came off free throws.
Humphrey averages 13 points on the year.
“Some players quit and I felt like I had to step up,” Humphrey said. “The other young players did too. It was a great opportunity, and we took it.”
Riverside’s ability to finish in close games is another reason for its success, and also a rare quality in young teams. Their last two wins have come by three points, including a 47-44 overtime win over region opponent Prince Avenue on Jan. 15.
They also played a veteran Dawson County team down to the wire on Jan. 8 before losing in double overtime. At the time, the Tigers were 9-3, and they have the luxury of four returning starters.
Humphrey said the underclassmen aren’t rattled by an opponent with more experience.
“We have some good basketball players and some things don’t faze us,” he said. “We just play hard.”
At the moment, Riverside is in the midst of a two-game losing skid. Smith credits that to nearly a month away from basketball between Christmas break and cancellations brought on by the recent snowstorm. The challenge for him, he said, is getting back on track while trying to find the right combination of players to put on the floor. With such an eclectic mix — the roster features players from Kuwait, Canada, Florida and Alabama — coupled with a new system and first-year coach, it could take some time.
But the plan is to have the Eagles peaking by region tournament time next month.
“We’ve got kids from all over the world, so we knew this would take some time,” Smith said. “But the good thing about basketball is you don’t have to win every game. You just have to fight for good seeding and hope to be clicking and playing as good as you can by February.”
Regardless of how the Eagles fare this season, the next 2-3 seasons have the makings of an up-and-coming team. They’ll be guard-heavy with Humprhey, Gallup and Weiner, and a post presence in the 6-foot-4 Toms. Smith said doctors project Toms' growth spurt could have him standing at 6-9 this time next year.
With Toms anchoring the post, and depth at the guard position, Smith is developing a transition-oriented style of play that relies on the press and penetrating the basket.
This season, the underclassmen will work on getting better acclimated with Smith’s style of play.
“The experience they’re getting is invaluable,” Smith said. “The future is bright and I’m excited about the next coming years with the kids we have."