YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It was just a year ago that the East Panthers began the season with a 0-10 record. This year; however, the Panthers are off to a 3-0 start which coach Dennis Simmons credits to the commitment of his players. “These guys have put the work in (during the) spring, summer, and fall months. Their goal has been to get better individually and collectively. Also this is the first year in five years (that we’ve) had a collection of kids (for) more than two years. These guys have learned about leadership and now they have an opportunity to put it into action.”
East opened the campaign with a 68-54 win at Fitch behind Vonzell Matlock’s 18 points and Calvaughn Bryant’s 16. Last year, the Panthers lost each of their meetings with Fitch. From there, East was able to top Hubbard (75-53) and Howland (73-60) to arrive at their 3-0 mark.
Coach Simmons has been pleased with his seniors. “The guys are buying into the concept of ‘it’s amazing what we can do if no one cares who gets the credit’. Ceandre Backus, Terrell Weaver, Deamonte Pagan, Vonzell Matlock, Calvaughn Bryant and Mike Ramey have realized they are going to have to lead us early and set the standard. Although, we expect to have a consistent eleven-man rotation, our young guys still have a lot of learning to do through experience. The seniors want to change the culture. They’ve bought in as a group to commit to do what they’ve been taught and take ownership of this season – committing to do what it takes to be successful on the court.”
Backus, the team’s first four-year player since Simmons arrived at East in 2012, has averaged 12.3 points, 7 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 45.5% from the three-point arc (5-11). Weaver has scored 14.7 points to lead the team in that category. He has made 60.0% of his field goal tries (18-30), while sinking 88.9% of his foul shots (8-9) and 50.0% of his three-point attempts (3-6). Pagan (12.5 ppg), Matlock (11.7 ppg) and Bryant (10.7 ppg) all have averaged double figures as well through their first three games. Matlock has led East in rebounding with his 7.3 average. Ramey has contributed also by averaging 3 points, 3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per contest.
“The most important thing for our success is the progression of our young guys,” says Simmons. “They’re just as talented as the seniors but lack game-time experience and decision making. They’re crucial in our mid-to-late season success – they allow us to maintain a level of play for thirty-two minutes. The second thing is cutting down on turnovers (19.3 average) and shooting better from the free throw line (50.0%). If we can improve those things I think the winning will take care of itself.”
East (3-0) will be tested tomorrow when they head to Harding to take on the 1-2 Raiders. Game time is scheduled for 7 pm. The Grove City Eagles (1-1) will travel across the border to take on East on Saturday.