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Green: Boards will be big for Belgreen girls

The Belgreen Lady Bulldogs have guards who can shoot, post players who can score, and more than enough experience and depth to improve upon last year’s 15-15 record—despite the fact that they’ll be facing a tougher schedule this season.

But head coach Chad Green firmly believes that the key to his team’s chances of returning to Hanceville after a one-year absence is—above all else—rebounding.

“I hope we push the ball up the floor and shoot the ball well,” Green said. “We’ve got good post players down low. But as the year goes on, I hope more than anything that we’re one of the best rebounding teams around.”

That was not the case last season, and Green takes full responsibility.

“We didn’t focus as much on rebounding the basketball,” Green said, “and that’s my fault. I’m bound and determined for that not to be the case this year. Our top priority is rebounding the basketball. I feel like that’s one thing that’s a must for us to advance deep in the playoffs.”

Green, a Russellville graduate who coached at Tharptown for nine years before taking over the Belgreen program in 2015, has long been a staunch admirer of Red Bay legend Donnie Roberts, who believed strongly that rebounding was more often than not the critical factor that decided the biggest of games. Now that Roberts is retired, Green sounds ready to take up the mantle when it comes to the importance of boxing out.

“I definitely think rebounding is one of the top priorities when it comes to winning those close games,” Green said. “You get a couple of offensive rebounds, and it breaks the other team’s back. Or you rebound on the defensive end and hold the other team to one shot. Whichever team gets more shot opportunities has a better chance of winning.”

The more shots the Lady Bulldogs get, the better, because making them shouldn’t be a problem. Veteran guard Jasmine Martin, the team’s lone senior, knocked down a team-best 45 threes last season and averaged 7.3 points per game. She’s joined in the backcourt by junior guard Gabbie Moore, who has made 66 threes over the past two seasons while scoring in double-figures 21 times; sophomore guard Autumn Bragwell, who burst onto the scene with five threes and 17 points in a late-season rout of Covenant Christian last January; and junior guard Emma Willingham, another capable perimeter shooter.

Both Moore (who is moving to point guard on a full-time basis after averaging 6.5 points per game off the ball last season) and Martin (who will play some at the one when she’s not firing away from the wing) will be asked to handle the ball a lot more this season following the graduation of veteran guards Brianna Wood and Shellie Barber.

“Gabbie will start at the point for us,” Green said. “During the summer, she did a good job there. You could tell she had really improved. She was playing with more confidence than she had the past couple of years when it came to handling the basketball and even shooting the basketball.

“Jasmine is just a solid player. She’s a solid shooter. She’s gonna be our backup point guard, and she’ll start on the wing. She’s a solid defender and a good passer. She’s been playing varsity since the seventh grade, so you’re not gonna find too many players who have played more varsity basketball than her. She’s exactly what you want in a senior.”

Bragwell, Willingham and sophomore Gracie Dempsey will also see significant minutes on the perimeter.

“Emma’s a good hustler,” Green said. “She does the dirty work and gets on the floor after the ball. Gracie, she’s a great defender. She’ll be one of our top defenders this year. And Autumn is turning into a good scorer, not only from outside but as a jump-shooter as well.”

The guard rotation is solid, but Belgreen’s strength may lie in the paint. Emma Dempsey, a 6’0 freshman, is back after averaging a team-best 10.2 points per game as an eighth-grader last season. She shot a solid 61 percent (100-for-164) from the foul line and put up three games of 20-plus points, including a career-high 26 in a win at Vina on January 10.

“Emma has been working on her post moves,” Green said. “She’s long and athletic, and she’s getting stronger. We’re in the weight room a lot, and she knows she’s gotta get stronger down low. The ceiling is very high for her.”

Dempsey is joined in the post by 5’8 sophomore Katie Dempsey (her older sister and Gracie’s twin), along with juniors Megan Smith and Camie Terrell and sophomore Ansley Tate.

Katie Dempsey led Belgreen in rebounding a year ago and averaged 7.3 points per game as a freshman, shooting 63 percent (93-for-148) from the foul line. Terrell averaged 4.0 points per game in a reserve role, demonstrating the ability to step out and knock down mid-range jumpers with consistency.

“Camie Terrell is one of the best mid-range shooters on the whole team,” Green said. “From the free throw line, from the short corner—she’s a knock-down shooter, and she’s working more on her outside shot, too. I think we’ll see that improve.

“Katie, she’s just a bruiser. She’s just a beat-and-bang girl, a good defender and a good rebounder down low. Ansley Tate has really improved down low with her post moves and her conditioning as well.”

With the renewed emphasis on rebounding, Smith is likely to see significant minutes in the post.

“Megan is probably the best box-out girl on the whole team,” Green said. “She likes contact, and she does a great job boxing out. She’s really solid fundamentally.”

Belgreen will open the season this Friday at home against Red Bay, and the Lady Bulldogs will once again battle Phillips for the top spot in Class 1A, Area 13.

Belgreen and Phillips split two regular season meetings last year, and the Lady Bears beat the Lady Bulldogs in the area tournament title game in February.

“They’re one of the preseason favorites to win a state championship,” Green said. “They’ve got pretty much their whole starting five back, except for one. Coach [Scott] Veal does a great job with them. They have good athletes, some good, quick guards, and some good post players. We’ll have to play well to beat a team like that.

“Coach [Hope] Hudson at Hackleburg lost a lot of good veteran players on her team. They had four or five seniors last year. Coach [Tanna] Benford at Tharptown has some good young talent coming up with [Brooke] Daily and [Aly] Vandiver. I think Richie [Hester] has a good team down at Vina, too. His daughter [Abby Hester] is a good point guard, and they have some really good shooters. You’ll really have to defend that three-point line against them.”

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