Lafayette girls basketball looks to take next step

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 4, 2016

Last March, Lafayette’s girls basketball team got a taste of Jackson. This year, they’d like a bigger serving on their plate.

Coming off a heartbreaking 65-63 loss to Florence in the quarterfinal round at Jackson State University, the Lady Commodores have shaken off the loss and used it as motivation during summer workouts and the first weeks of practice to prove they are going to be one of the top teams in Class 4A.

“Like I do every year, I tell the girls who are returning, ‘Are you happy with where you got to or do you want to go further?’” Lafayette coach Shayne Linzy said. “‘If you want to go further, then you have to work a little harder than you did this past year,’ and the girls have. Our goal this year is to get to Jackson.”

With a wealth of experience returning up and down the roster and the experience of seven seniors, Linzy is cautious but optimistic with his outlook for the season, stating this is the best team he’s assembled on the court since his 2012 team at Oxford when they won the state title.

Senior guard and reigning EAGLE Player of the Year Shaniyah Buford leads the Commodores along with co-captain Orianna Shaw. Chelsea Allen and Kamari Kinds are other seniors who will be looked on for production.

One missing piece is the departure of Shelbi Buford, who graduated in May. Linzy is losing 8.6 points per game along with 2.3 rebounds and more than three assists a night with Shelbi gone, but it is more than a line in the stat sheet he will miss this season.

“I lose a senior in Shelbi, who knew the game and understood the game, who could make on-court decisions without me having to yell,” Linzy said. “Losing her hurts. I lose good experience and a good basketball player. But I’m coming with a lot of experience behind her.”

Besides the seniors, Linzy is returning youth that earned experience last year and will be counted on to take that next step. One player that will see an expanded role is freshman Azariah Buford. As an eighth-grader, Azariah averaged 3.6 points a game and 2.5 rebounds. She found a role late in the season and became a key factor for the Commodores during their postseason run.

“I threw her into the fire,” Linzy said of Azariah. “I’m going to have her this year with people like Chelsea and Shaniyah who can bail her out if she gets in trouble. But she’s going to learn how to play the point and how to handle the ball and that kind of pressure. Because she’s not going to have those seniors to bail her out.”

The Lady Commodores begin their season on Saturday with a game against Eupora at the Leonard Holland Classic in Calhoun City. Their home opener will be Tuesday night against Walnut.

Continued progression

Two seasons ago, the Lafayette boys basketball team did not win a game. They went 0-13, causing then-head coach Nacoma James to be relieved of his duties and then-girls head coach John Sherman to take over. Sherman was in his first year after coming from Water Valley where he coached the boys’ team.

Last year, Lafayette improved, winning five games but still going winless in Region 2-4A action. This season, Sherman is expecting the upward trend to continue, but how much of an improvement is yet to be determined until the Commodores start playing against someone other than themselves.

“We’re definitely looking for this group to take the next step,” Sherman said. “They’ve been with me now for two years, and I’ve got 10 guys in the gym. So it’s really no excuse for us not to be doing something as far as competing at a higher level.”

Sherman has nearly all of his roster in the gym besides the football players who are beginning the playoffs tonight, which is a far cry from how it was two seasons ago when James could not schedule a game until December due to the football playoffs continuing through November.

With the majority of his team having been with him since August, the chemistry will not be an issue. There are only two seniors on the team in forward Corey Williams and point guard Artarius Owens, leaving the group of seven juniors to be the bulk of his leadership and experience.

“We haven’t done a lot of team offense and sets. Mostly been just individual type stuff,” Sherman said. “This week we’re going to try to kind of hone in on that and try to fine tune some stuff and hopefully that will come.”

In Year 2 of Sherman’s tenure of trying rebuild the program, expectations of a postseason run are always there with any team but realistically and with the teams they are competing against in their region, including Rosa Fort, Byhalia and Senatobia, he is not harping on a Jackson-or-bust mentality.

“It is still an unknown how these guys are going to perform,” Sherman said. “I told them early that we can be a really good basketball team and still finish last in our division because of the makeup of our division.”

Lafayette will begin their season Tuesday against Walnut at home.