Polytech aiming to get back to the state tournament

WOODSIDE — All that talent and nothing to show for it except a 7-13 record.

Last season still eats at the Polytech High boys’ basketball team.

“It was embarrassing,” said center Juwan Gray. “Our team was a state championship caliber team and we were losing to teams that we could have beat and then had to see them make the playoffs.”

Luckily for Polytech’s seniors, they have one more chance to show the state what they can do.

The Panthers will look to put last year behind them when they open the basketball season at 6 p.m. Friday night as they host Sussex Central in a Henlopen Conference Northern Division matchup. Polytech returns four starters from last year’s team, three of whom played as sophomores when the Panthers made the state quarterfinals in 2012.

In fact the Panthers had made the quarterfinals four of the last six seasons. Last year was the first time Polytech missed the state tournament since the 2003-2004 season.

“I feel pretty confident that we’ve come a long way from last year,” Gray said. “We know our teammates better. Last year it was a free-for-all. Everyone had their own egos. This year, it’s our senior year, we’ve put everything aside to come together and try to win a championship.”

“I think we’re in a better place than last year,” said senior point guard Ricky Hicks. “Not making the playoffs last year, everybody has a chip on their shoulder. Our main goal is to play defense because we know we’re going to score. So let’s play defense and let’s get to the playoffs.”

Gray, Hicks, senior Devaughn Mallory and senior John Pierce Jr. are Polytech’s returning starters and they all can do different things.

Gray (6-foot-8) and Mallory (6-foot-7) make up one of the biggest frontcourts in the conference and can also play on the wing. Pierce gives the Panthers another big body down low and Hicks brings his quickness back to the point guard position for another year.

Polytech welcomes newcomer Tim Butler this season along with a pair of shooters in Chase Chappel and Zach Price.

“We have a lot of mismatches,” Gray said.

Once again the Panthers have a challenging nonconference slate in front of them.

They play in two tournaments over the holiday break, going to Garnet Valley’s (Pa.) Holiday Basketball Classic Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 before a trip the Boardwalk Basketball Classic in Wildwood (N.J.) Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

There’s also tough instate contests against upstate teams from the Blue Hen Conference with A.I. du Pont, Newark, Hodgson and Brandywine on the schedule.

But the Panthers know they can’t take any games off. That’s something they struggled with last year.

“We were playing down to competition,” Hicks said. “That was our main problem. When it was a tougher team, we played harder, but when it wouldn’t be as tough a team we wouldn’t play hard and lose interest in the game.”

The seniors have vowed to stop that from happening this season.

“Our captains have been taking a big leadership role in the team,” Hicks said. “Just in practice, making sure no one slacks off and we get better.”

Staff writer Tim Mastro can be reached at tmastro@newszap.com or 741-8224. Follow @TimMastroDSNon Twitter.

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