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INDEPENDENCE -- Grayson County boys’ basketball coach Lucas Austin isn’t one to make excuses. It’s a good thing, because a really good one is no longer viable.
“The last two years we’ve been able to say we’re young,” said Austin, in his third year as the Blue Devils’ coach. “We can’t say that this year.” After relying on a couple of sophomores to lead the team in scoring last year, and those same two as freshmen the year before, Grayson County should be in the Mountain Empire District title mix in 2009, returning five of its top six players from a team that finished 15-9 last year, 3-20 the year before. It their two scrimmages and their season opener, a 61-60 loss at the buzzer to Oak Hill’s Red team Wednesday, the Blue Devils have shown they can run the floor. Austin said for Grayson to be a better team than a year ago, the Devils need to know when to finish but also when to pull back. “Establishing a half-court game with Jake [Blizzard],” Austin said of his main post player, listed generously at 6-2. “I think Jake’s gotten a lot better. He’s worked in the weight room and he’s gotten a whole lot more explosive, he’s stronger and he’s a whole lot quicker.” Blizzard posted a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds against Oak Hill. “His post moves have gotten stronger, and he can help us, but we need to be able to get into a half-court game and pass it around a few times to get the shot we want,” Austin said. There was no surprise at the top of the scoring list Wednesday, as junior wing Eric Harvey led the way with 24 points. Harvey led the team in scoring as a freshman and sophomore (17.1 ppg), with fellow junior Tyler Rutherford (12.9) not far behind both years. Keeping Harvey under control offensively is a challenge as the bulk of his points come in transition or on second shots. “He’s got to get better at getting open away from the ball,” said Austin. “If he has a bad night we could struggle if somebody doesn’t step up.” Rutherford cooled a little from the outside last year after lighting it up as a freshman, but Austin is pleased with what he’s seen thus far. “He’s capable of scoring, but he’s doing a good job of being unselfish, getting everyone active and involved in the offense,” he said. “He’s matured.” Not that Grayson County is limited to two weapons. “I think Steven [Eller] and Bubba [Bowen], Jake, any of those guys can put up some points,” Austin said. “But if Eric can put up 18 or 19 a game, that would be fine with me.” Willie Deboard is also back and should contribute, and freshman Mikey Rodgers played a solid game against Oak Hill. Jared Salts, Zack Hill, Reece Phipps and Adam Cornett just need experience. “We don’t have a lot of depth yet, but I think if we can get some games and get a lead and get some of these guys some experience, I think two or three of them can help us,” said Austin. “I think we can get to where we can play eight guys pretty regular.” The Blue Devils were picked to win the Mountain Empire by The Roanoke Times, but Austin said there are plenty of contenders to go around. “I think Galax is going to be tough,” he said. “The crew [Galax coach Verl Brown] has this year is more athletic and more conducive to what he likes to do. He likes to press a lot and he has a group that can do it. I know Fort lost a couple of kids but they’ve got Viars and Cook back, and some strong JV players. They’ll be good. And it sounds like Narrows will be good. They’ve got four starters back.”