If Strong is to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2018, they will have to find a way to replace the production lost by three starters.
With Derrion Davis, Jeremiah Young and Byron Maze gone, the Bulldogs have to find a way to replace approximately 43 points and 31 rebounds per night.
And while that certainly won’t be an easy task, the Bulldogs have spent the last few weeks leading up to their season opener on Tuesday against Bradley by getting up to speed on what coach Champ Watson wants done on the floor.
“Lot of teaching, lot of teaching,” Watson said. “They’re (Bradley) one of the top guys in the conference, so even though we canceled some games, it’s done us well because there’s been a lot of teaching.”
Watson said the Bulldogs have been focused on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’m just teaching everything, especially from the defensive side,” Watson said. “I’m a defensive-minded coach. Everything from how to play man-to-man and the position you’re supposed to be in instead of tugging and chasing and things like that. Guard to forward help, forward to guard help, being in the right position to make plays.”
Senior Emauri Newton, who averaged 10 points and five assists per game last year, will be counted on to produce.
“He’s in a different role,” Watson said. “He was able to have some good games last year, but it was because of what the other three guys were allowing him to do, meaning the focus defensively from the other team was on someone else, so that enabled him to have some good games from shooting the outside jumper.”
Junior Fred Williams will also be expected to shoulder some of the scoring load.
“Fred Williams has proven to be a double-double guy,” Watson said. “He lost a lot of weight this summer, which is great. He stayed in foul trouble a lot last year, but he has proven that he can score the basketball.”
The Bulldogs have some experience returning in junior Treveon Daniels and Watson is also expecting sophomores Shundarius Shelton and LaQuincy Shelton to make an impact this year.
Watson said depth could be issue, but he believes the Bulldogs can overcome it.
“I had eight or nine last year, so if they listen and that’s the first step of change,” Watson said. “If you know what to do and where to go and things like that from a coaching standpoint, they’ll be fine, but again, it’s a lot of teaching because I’ve lost a lot in those three guys.”
As far as the 8-1A is concerned, Watson said defending state champion Nevada and Bradley are in the mix to win the league.
“To me, I’m still looking at Nevada and Bradley to be the top two and Dermott and the rest of us is a question mark,” Watson said.
“We’re always going to compete. I teach my guys to compete, so we’re not just trying to get the fourth spot, we’re trying to have a great season. No matter what our depth and who we’ve lost, we’ve just got to go out and compete. That’s why you play the game.”
If the Bulldogs are to have success, Watson said it will start with defense.
“Defense. We have to learn how to guard,” Watson said. “We have to know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot and to move without the ball. We can’t be standing around offensively.”