Even though it is two months into its season, the Lithia Springs boys basketball team hasn’t had its full roster for any game.
Post player Kris Fernandez recently returned after missing five weeks with a broken finger and reserve wing Jahrel Reagan is currently out with the same injury.
Fernandez returned to the Lions’ lineup at the after-Christmas Lagrange Toyota Classic and the Lions hope that a healthier team will be able to rebound from a 1-5 start to their Region 5-AAAAA schedule.
“He’s made a huge difference,” Lithia Springs coach J.W. Cantrell said. “He’s 6-6, gives us some more presence in the middle, [and] more of a scoring threat.”
Lithia Springs won two out of the first three games Fernandez played in, as he returned to action midway through the LaGrange tournament. The Lions only loss was a one-point defeat to host Lagrange team in overtime.
“I told the kids that [that] was a great test to see how good we were because [Lagrange] shot 43 free throws and we only shot 15, and we still almost won the game,” Cantrell said. “It was a lot of determination by the kids.”
Fernandez being back on the court for Lithia Springs also helps the Lions’ leading scorer, senior 6-foot-3 forward James Williams. Williams had 33 points, 16 rebounds, and six blocks in the game against Lagrange.
“He is the hot hand right now,” Lithia Springs guard Jachin Capers said. “We feed of his energy, his explosiveness. If he gets going, then Ceaunte [Zachary] gets, going, If Ceaunte gets going, then I get going, if I get going, then Tyric [Mostiller] gets going, and so forth and so forth.”
Cantrell likes to make opponents choose between Williams and Fernandez when it comes to which interior player they want to focus on.
“They kind of play the same position,” he said. “I like to play them together at the same time and teams got to decide who they are going to try and stop.”
While not fully healthy, Lithia Springs is gaining confidence as it makes it way towards being fully healthy.
“This season we started off kind of slow, but now we’re getting everybody into games, playing as a team and we’re starting to build ourselves up,” Zachary said. “I believe we can win every game from now on.”
The Lions have region games against Villa Rica on Tuesday, Hiram on Jan. 15, and Alexander on Jan. 16.
The more wins they pile up will help their seeding for the region tournament, but playing in a sport that has a region tournament highlights the need for a team to being playing its best towards the end of the season.
“That’s the best thing about basketball,” Cantrell said. “The regular season, it matters, but the tournament is the only thing that matters at the end. If you catch fire at the end you can still go a long way.”
For seniors like Williams and Capers, the urgency to turn the Lions’ season around is on a game-by-game basis.
“It is always important to finish strong because you don’t know when your [next game] might be your last,” Capers said. “With this group of guys I feel like we can do something special. We got a lot of guys who can score. We got a lot of guys who can play good defense.”