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It may be a bumpy ride for the 2009-2010 edition of the Paola Panther Boys Basketball team, but if there’s one thing you can count on, this squad will be like every other Dave Cash coached Panther team, they will be scrappy, they’ll get after you on the defensive end of the floor, and they’ll never, ever give up.

This year’s Panther squad is going to have to make it’s living off defense pressure, utilizing its size and speed to create turnovers and open looks at the basket, because even the casual observer at a Panthers game will find it easy to see that this year’s team is not loaded with offensive weapons.

WLH0451 In other words, this year’s Panther squad doesn’t look like it’s going to get into a lot of offensive shoot-outs with scores reaching in the 70s and 80s. If the Panthers try and play that style of ball, they’re probably going to be in trouble, and Coach Cash will not be a happy man.

This is not to say the Panthers are without experience, but, as is the case with several area teams, they are still quite young. The Panthers will rely on a talented group of underclassmen with varsity experience to lead the way on this year’s team. Travis Hayes, Isaac Cotton and Skylar Hawkins, all juniors all possess a wealth of varsity experience. Junior Nick Wilson also got some quality minutes during the second half of the season which gives Paola a good nucleus on which to build.

What the Panthers are going to have to find is some kind of “go to” person, someone they can count on to take a big shot, get a big rebound or just make a play when the game is on the line. Last year, Hayes filled that role several times, and has demonstrated the ability to be that kind of player. He has good range for a big man, and can step out and hit the medium range jumper as well as the three pointer beyond the arc.

“We are awfully young, with a lot of juniors and sophomores,” Cash said. “Our guard play needs to get better, we are pretty athletic on the perimeter, but we need to work on taking care of the basketball.”

The Panthers will be athletic on the perimeter, with Hawkins leading the way, with a host of other players ready to step in and help the Panthers patrol the back court. In the front court, Hayes and Wilson may have the experience, but Cotton gives the Panthers a competent swing man, someone who’s able to go inside, bang with the big guys, but quick and athletic enough to catch the ball on the wing and drive to the basket. Another welcome addition to the this year’s squad is Jesse Smail, a 6’5” senior who missed last year.

“Smail missed a year of basketball and will be working hard to catch up with everyone else,” Cash said. “He is a good sized kid who, hopefully can help with some put backs in the paint, as well as helping on the boards.”

The road will not be easy for the Panthers, as always, the Frontier league is tough from top to bottom, with Ottawa ranked as the number two team in Class 4A in the pre-season, and the Gardner-Edgerton Trailblazers, who are making their farewell tour through the league in basketball, sporting the likes of Bubba Starling and crew. Add to the brutal league schedule some quality non-league opponents, including Piper and Harmon as well as the always salty Burlington Tournament in January, and it all adds up to a schedule that would scare the daylights out of a lot of teams.

But, Cash is confident his team will be equal to the challenge, and of early season practices are any indication, they will, at the very least leave everything they have on the court each and every night they play.

“I like how we have practiced, but we have a long way to go,” Cash said. “This is a great bunch of young men, we’ll just have to see how they come along on the court.”

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Youth will rule the court for Panthers

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