Grayson boys begin to rebuild

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Four returning starters, including its top two scorers, should help Grayson start on the way back up.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

INDEPENDENCE –– With four returning starters, including the team’s top two scorers, its top two rebounders and its top assist man, Grayson County’s 3-18 record last year will hopefully be what it is now – in the past.

“Overall I think we’ll be better, but we’re still young,” said Grayson County coach Lucas Austin, entering his second season with just four seniors on the roster. “We’ve got to find an inside game. Last year almost out of desperation we were putting up all kinds of threes, trying to find scoring somewhere, shooting a lot of low-percentage shots.”

Despite their youth, the Blue Devils don’t lack for experience. Four starters are back, three of them for at least two more years. Tyler Rutherford and Eric Harvey led the team in scoring last year as freshmen, averaging 12.5 and 8.8 points per game, respectively. Preston Bowen, now a senior, and Rutherford were the top two rebounders, with 7.2 and 4.4 boards per game, and Bubba Bowen will be counted on for more this year.

“Bubba is a good penetrator,” Austin said of the 6-2 guard. “He can be a good shooter, and he’s grown some.”

Though the Blue Devils don’t have any skyscrapers, they do have plenty of good-sized guards, with Rutherford, Bubba Bowen and projected sixth man Steven Eller all either 6-1 or 6-2.

Austin expects Jake Blizzard to fill the fifth starter’s spot, and the 6-3 junior center should give the Blue Devils something they sorely missed last year – an inside presence.

“We never did establish any kind of inside game whatsoever,” Austin said. “We shot a bunch of outside shots. This year I think Jake Blizzard is going to help us out. He’s a big strong kid, and we really need him to establish an inside game for us. That’ll make us a little better.”

Harvey has shown finesse on the inside, and Austin hopes that with a year’s growth, the 6-3 forward will show some muscle in the lane as well.

Logan Whitt, Rusty Williams and Jordan Johnson round out Austin’s senior class.

“Logan’s a good leader,” he said. “He gets after it. I haven’t been coaching that long, but he’s the hardest worker I’ve been associated with.”

Willie Deboard, a 6-3 junior, will give depth to the center position, while Reese Phipps, Ryan Hernandez and Zack Hill give Austin three more players to count on for two more years.

Grayson lost by 11 in a scrimmage with John Battle, and though they struggled in the half-court game, the Devils looked good in transition.

“I think [running] will be our best shot to find some offense – getting up and down the floor,” Austin said. “We’ve got to execute, though. Last year we got up and down the floor okay, we just didn’t hit the shots.”

Austin is counting on a lot offensively from Rutherford, who hit at least one 3-pointer in every game last year and shot close to 40 percent from that range, and Harvey. But he’s not counting solely on them.

“I think on any given night, Bubba, Preston, Jake Blizzard and Steve Eller can put up some points, so we’re pretty well-rounded. I think we’ll be a little more solid all the way through our top six positions this year. Last year we depended on Tyler and Eric to score. If they struggle, those other guys have got to be able to step up, too.”

As was the case in football, the MED basketball race looks wide open, with Galax, Fort Chiswell and Bland County all looking solid to start the year.

“ It’ll be a tight race, but hopefully we can get in there and upset a couple of people,” Austin said. “We need to win at home when we can.”