Basketball preview: Montevallo Bulldogs

Published 10:57 am Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tae' Smith will be lead the Montevallo offense in 2015-16. (File)

Tae’ Smith will be lead the Montevallo offense in 2015-16. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – Montevallo dressed 15 varsity players for most of last season, which was the largest team the Bulldogs have fielded in head coach Gregory Dickinson’s tenure. Of those 15, eight were seniors, and their contribution was a huge part of why the 2014-15 Bulldogs finished 20-8 and made an appearance in the sub-regional round of the state tournament, where they lost to Holt by two. Eight seniors is a massive class to graduate for the fourth-smallest 4A school in the state.

“That’s a big number of seniors,” Dickinson said in an Oct. 21 interview, who added that the largest graduating class he’s had before this one was four.

Five of those seniors were steady contributors, and four were starters. Gone is center Bobby Anderson, who was one of only two players in the entire county to average a double-double over the course of the season with 15 points per game, 14 rebounds per game and four blocks per game for good measure. Gone also is team captain Antwain Cunningham and his 18 points, five rebounds and six assists per game as well. Cortez Williams and Daejon Young were the other two senior starters who helped get the Bulldogs get to the 20-win mark.

Alongside those four seniors was lanky, athletic sophomore, now junior, Tae’ Smith. Smith is a matchup nightmare for anyone at the high school level, and will be the guy for Montevallo this season.

“He’ll be the guy who we’re looking to to carry us this year,” Dickinson said.

At 6-feet-five-inches, Smith has the size and range to overpower essentially any perimeter player the Bulldogs will face this year. But he is too fast, has too good of a handle and too smooth of a jumper for any big man to be able to stay in front of him. He’s already garnering college attention from a host of junior colleges as well as the likes of Samford, Wright State and UNA.

Smith won’t be able to play one-on-five this season, although until football season is over it may look like that for Montevallo. Dickinson figures to have 14 guys on the varsity roster this year, another large team, and of those 14, 10-11 are football players. Jamal Figueroa, Undreaz Lilly, Ahmad Edwards and Daqwan Bryant are four of the recognizable names from the football team who will have to transition quickly from the gridiron to the hard court once the football season wraps up, which could be up to almost a third of the way into the regular season depending on how deep of a playoff run the football team makes.

“We’ll have Tae’ and a couple of other kids who can put up a fight, but we won’t have any size or anything while those guys are gone,” Dickinson said. “I’ll move up some of the JV guys to make up a full team and then pull some of the middle school guys up to JV. We’ll just fight through it.”

Once Dickinson does have his full roster at his disposal, whenever that is, there will be a larger emphasis placed on zone defense to hopefully help alleviate the rebounding deficiency left by Anderson. On offense, things will primarily run through Smith. Lilly, Edwards, Bryant and Jared Yancey will be the next-tier of scorers who will all have to contribute offensively as well.

When talking about goals and expectations for this season, Dickinson is unapologetically ambitious.

“Our goal is to win the state championship,” he said. “That’s always the goal. That was the goal last year, we came up a little short, but this year, I think we’ll have another chance at it. That’s always been the goal. We’ve talked about it since the end of the season all the way going into this next season.”

The Bulldogs start the season on Nov. 13 with an away game at Calera.