Coach: Chris Nail is his fifth year with a record of 70-38
Assistant coaches: Dewain Fishburn, David Torres and Chad Pitts
2010-11 record: 20-8. The Panthers were conferences champions but were eliminated in the first round of the State Tournament.
Returning starters: Nate Griffin, senior (5-8 point guard) who was all-conference and was in the all-state tournament.; Graham Gardner, junior (6-9 post player) was also selected all-conference; Tamario Beauguard, senior (5-11 forward) is expected to play a limited role this year.
Best Inside players: Nash leads the charge, and there is plenty of height on the inside. With Zack Stuckey (6-3 post player); Josh Bowling (6-4 post player); and Hayden Burchfield (6-9 sophomore), it is little wonder. Nail said he has “a good feeling about post play this season.”
Best outside players: Rick Gipson (5-10 guard), along with sophomore Blake Bowlin (6-4) are both considered good shooters by Nail. Also working the outside are Buck Allen (5-11 guard); Thaddeus Cafferey (6-0 forward); and Collin Simmons (5-10 point guard).
How will be the team match up with your success of last year? “I think we are a different team from last year’s,” Nail said. “This team is more athletic, and there is less experience. I still think we can compete at the top of the conference. It could be a good year.”
Strengths of the team: Nail said the overall size of the team is greater, especially with both Gardner and Burchfield standing at 6-9 and five more players at 6 feet or over. Yet, the big men seem to have more foot quickness than last year’s team.
Weakness of the team: Nail said while there are good shooters on the team, they need to develop perimeter shooters to make another run at the state championship.
Games to watch: For the Panthers, their two games with Bryant are always big games, played before big crowds. Benton’s boys will be at home when they play Bryant on Nov. 22, and they go to Bryant to take on the Hornets on Dec. 16.
In the conference: The games against McCellan at home on Jan. 6 and away on Feb. 3 and against El Dorado in Benton on Jan. 20 and to end the season in El Dorado on Feb. 21 could be the keys to the success of the season. Nail also expects the game with J. A. Fair in Little Rock on Jan. 24 and the return match in Benton on Feb. 14 to be games no one will want to miss.
College prospect: “Griffin will probably play ball for some college next year,” Nail said. He said the player has already been earned an offer from a college in Missouri. However, others may be interested as the season goes along.
In a nutshell: The athleticism of this year’s team, along with their size could mean great things, but weak perimeter shooting and a lack of experienced players will be a challenge Nail hopes to meet before conference play begins.