Golden Tigers tip off tonight

By Staff
Mike Self, FCT Sports Editor
Heading into tonight's home opener against Haleyville, the Russellville Golden Tigers are anxious to build off the 15-9 record they posted last year in Michael Smith's first season as head coach.
"We had a really good summer," said Smith, who coached for 14 seasons at Eufaula before coming to Russellville last year. "This was really the first time I got to spend a whole summer working with the guys, and it was good for us. I feel like they have a better understanding of what I expect from them, and I have a better idea of what they're capable of doing."
Lacking a dominant post player and blessed with a plethora of outside shooters, the Golden Tigers took nearly 40 percent of their shot attempts last season from beyond the three-point line.
Smith is counting on 6-foot-5 freshman Nate Dunstan and 6-foot-6 sophomore Andy Pounders to provide a much-needed inside presence, but Russellville's strength remains its versatility on the perimeter.
"At times we'll have five players in the lineup who are pretty much interchangeable," Smith said. "We're hoping to create some mismatches on the perimeter that will make it tough on defenses."
Leading the way for the Golden Tigers will be junior guards Siran Winston and Cory Trapp, each of whom is entering his third year as a starter on the varsity level.
Winston averaged a team-best 3.5 assists per game last year while ranking third in scoring (8.5), rebounding (5.0) and steals (2.2). His knack for penetrating into the lane is essential to helping the Golden Tigers get open looks from the perimeter.
"Most teams will have to double-team Siran, because he's so quick," Smith said. "We're going to surround him with guys who can shoot the three, so when he drives into the lane and draws the defense he'll have confidence to kick the ball out to his teammates for an open shot."
First and foremost among those perimeter marksman is Trapp, who shot 35 percent from three-point range last year and led the team in scoring at 16.0 points per game. He made more than twice as many three-pointers (86) as two-pointers (38), and Smith said he would like to see Trapp drive to the basket more often to take advantage of his stellar free throw shooting (81 percent last season).
"Cory is a great outside shooter, but there were times last year when he forced shots out of necessity," Smith said. "He didn't want to take bad shots, but I think sometimes he felt like he had to. As he continues to get older and grow as a player, I think he would benefit from putting the ball on the floor a little more. His shot selection would improve, and when he gets to the foul line those are like guaranteed points."
While Smith wants Trapp to take the ball to the basket a little more, he would like to see opponents settling for perimeter shots more often.
"We gave up too many two-point field goals last year," Smith said. "We have to do a better job of helping each other out on defense and forcing teams to take more outside shots. I don't think many teams we face will be able to shoot it as well as we can."
Senior Justin Thorne, who was fourth on the team last season in three-pointers made with 16, gives Russellville another perimeter threat.
Sophomore forward Jay Bates made a major impact last year after moving up to the varsity level early in the season, averaging 6.7 points and shooting a team-best 49 percent from the field. Bates will take on an even larger role this season, as will varsity newcomers Terence Smith and Jordan Hammond.
The going will get tougher for Russellville in Class 5A, Area 16 this season, with Hartselle moving out and Decatur moving in. The Red Raiders, who will visit Russellville on January 2, feature star guard Rico Pickett, an Alabama signee and one of the Top 50 prep players in the country.
"Our area is going to be one of the best in the state," Smith said. "Decatur is very good, and we already know how tough Athens and Muscle Shoals are. I really believe that the two teams who make it out of our area tournament will meet up again in Hanceville [at the Northwest Regional Touranment]."