Both the Millington Trojans and Bartlett Panthers are young teams looking to improve throughout December to make a potential run in the beginning of 2018.
When the two squads arrived to the Bartlett Gymnasium Dec. 5, Millington Head Coach Jewell Gates arrived to the road contest with a full arsenal but missing his starting back court of Bryce Mattox and Hunter Klutts.
Meanwhile, Bartlett Head Coach Dion Real was still mixing and matching his lineup, looking to create the ideal rotation. Several Panthers were involved in the 66-16 victory over the Trojans.
“I’ve been impressed with the growth of it,” Real said. “But I have not been impressed with the record — 5-3. These guys have just been growing. They have been improving. That’s all you can ask. Thanksgiving we kind of went into a little low. We celebrated Thanksgiving for an entire week. We played no basketball.”
He added, “We don’t have any seniors. But it’s been a collective locker room group of everybody beginning to take ownership of their mistakes and the good things and just growing.”
Signs of Bartlett growth were on full display throughout the first half against Millington, jumping out 38-6. The Trojans found it hard to generate offense without senior point guard Mattox and leading scorer Klutts.
The Panthers jumped out 9-2 in the early moments of the first quarter when Jefferson Walker made a layup.
The score was 11-6 when Trojan Bobby Macklin scored on a breakaway. Bartlett proceeded with a 10-0 run to close out the opening period.
The Panthers scored 17 points in the second quarter while holding the Trojans scoreless. Wynne Brown made a reverse layup to make the score 23-6.
Then Panther Rodney Mason drained a triple to give Bartlett a 20-point advantage. To close out the first half of action, Bartlett guard Jalen Cincore received a backdoor pass and exploded to the rim for a jam to make the halftime score 38-6.
Millington equaled its first-half offensive production in the third quarter with 6 points. Meanwhile the Panthers tallied 25 points with contributions from Takori Rooks, Jaylin Lucas, Jake Manley and Cincore.
“If you improve every single day, that’s all we ask,” Real said. “Give us your best and we’ll see what’s up. If you don’t give it your best, then you’re going to have regrets. One thing that we talk about off the court, ‘never live your life with regrets.’”
If any player on the current Bartlett roster has any regrets throughout the 2017-18 season, he will have a chance to redeem himself in the future. Featuring mostly juniors and sophomores, the youthful Panthers have been on the brink of breaking through rough district, featuring Arlington, Cordova and Bolton.
The past two seasons, Bartlett has traveled to Brighton to play in Regionals. Last year the Cardinals eliminated the Panthers.
“It’s a process with no seniors,” Real said. “With this group, I feel that it is in us to get over the brink. In this league, it’s a tough league. And in our Region, it is a tough Region to get to that Monday. And that’s something special. I would love to tell you that we’re going to be there. I feel like it is in us.
“But if you go talk to Bolton, they feel the same way,” he said. “Go talk to Arlington, it’s in them and Cordova it’s in in them. Everybody feels like they have that special group to get there. It’s a just a matter of improving on a daily basis and you’re going to need a little luck along the way.”