Class 5A blog: SWD boys use new approach to regain prominence

With last year’s COVID problems in the past, the Southwest DeKalb boys are looking like their old selves – sort of.

The Panthers are winning again – they’re off to a 10-2 start after last season’s uncharacteristic 10-9 finish that saw them miss the state playoffs. But this team doesn’t possess the physical size that coach Eugene Brown has relied on in the past, so the decision was made to play fast all the time and use relentless pressure to wear down the opposition.

It’s been a great success. The No. 5-ranked Panthers are creating 26 turnovers per game and committing only 14. That margin of success has allowed Southwest DeKalb to regain its place among the state’s elite programs.

“It’s a different style of basketball than we’ve played,” Brown said. “That Final Four team (2019) had a lot more size than we do, but we’re very athletic, they play hard and they’re pretty disciplined. With our style, we’ve got to play at least 10 people every night and sometimes it gets deeper than that.”

Depth has been a key. No player can expect to go all-out for 32 minutes and still have anything left in the fourth quarter. So Brown rotates players -- often five at a time -- to ensure minds and legs are fresh for the stretch.

“So we’ve got to use a lot of bodies and we’ve got some really good players, No. 1 through 15,” Brown said. “The kids love it. We give them a lot of freedom. We’re going to run actions that are going to give us the best chance to score and we’ll get some off the break. That turnover margin has been really good for us.”

While the Panthers lack the size of previous teams there is plenty of athleticism on the roster, enough to encourage the staff to make the switch.

The Panthers are led in scoring by combo guard Jordan Sanders, a 6-foot-3 senior who average a team-high 15.3 points. Sanders, an all-region selection last year, also averages 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 4.5 steals.

Kortney Forrest, a 6-3 wing, is averaging 13 points. Brown said the senior is a knockdown shooter who who works both ends of the floor and is the team’s vocal leader.

Junior Xzaviah Taylor, son of Olympic medalist Angelo Taylor, plays larger than his 6-1 frame. He has the explosive ability to steal the ball and sky high to score, rebound and block shots. “If the ball is anywhere around him, he’s going to get it,” Brown said. His twin brother, Isaiah Taylor, is also on the team.

Nixon Stewart, a 6-2 senior, is a transfer from Towers who averages 10.7 points off the bench. Brown said Stewart brings a tough-minded strong presence who knows how to get his shot off. “He’s been a big boost,” Brown said.

Those are only four of the players on the roster. The Panthers use at least 10, sometimes as many as 15 each game. “There are a lot of guys doing a lot of great things,” he said.

Southwest DeKalb is off until Saturday night when it plays at rival Columbia at 7 p.m. Friday’s game against Decatur and Tuesday’s game against St. Pius had to be postponed because of work on the courts at SWD.

More SWD news: The next victory for the Panthers will be the 1,000th in the program’s 66-year history. Southwest is 999-460 and has won five state championships, all under current coach Kathy Walton. The Panthers play Columbia on Saturday.

Eagle’s Landing wins Kingdom of the Sun: The No. 1-ranked Eagle’s Landing boys won the 47th Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala, Fla., beating IMG Blue of Bradenton 63-60 in the final.

“It means a lot to win this tournament and it’s awesome for our kids,” Eagle’s Landing coach Elliott Montgomery said. “This is our first time coming to this tournament and we are blessed to win it. This is a good win and a great tournament for us.”

A.J. Barnes scored 20 points in the championship game and was named MVP for the tournament. David Thomas and Jordan Fordyce also made the all-tournament team for the Eagles.