By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Montcalm Generals are getting reinforcements, just in time for key battles on the horizon.
A pair of injured seniors are returning to the active roster for the boys basketball team, with the heart of this season’s schedule coming up fast.
“We’re slowly getting everyone back,” first-year head coach Matt Smith said during Monday’s practice at the Montcalm High gym.
Matt Pennington, who was a strong preseason candidate to start at point guard, said he tore ligaments in his ankle in a preseason scrimmage game. He has been cleared to practice, though he said he still feels some pain when the ankle twists certain ways.
Smith said, “Matt will be back, hopefully Friday of this week, if all goes well this week.”
Andrew Agee’s season lasted about 30 seconds of the team’s first game before he broke a knuckle on his shooting hand. The intense 5-foot-6 guard healed enough to see game time starting last week.
Smith said, “We’re working him back into things, which gives us another guard, another senior.”
Agee said, “It’s real tough to sit there and watch your team practice every day and not be out there with them and trying to help them grow and to get better.”
Asked about his return to action, he said, “I was ready, the second they told me I could play.”
Pennington said, “It’s been pretty tough. It was not something I was expecting. I just have to keep pushing through, and help the team get better, and wait until I can get back.”
Asked about what he’ll be thinking when he does return to action, Pennington said, “I’ll just do what I can to help the team win.”
The Generals lost their first three games, but put together back-to-back wins in mid-December, by 12 points at River View and by 33 points against Mercer Christian Academy.
That turned out to be their last games of 2012, since a trip to Fayetteville was called off. After a 15-day holiday layoff, the Generals lost 63-29 to Mount View and 61-33 to Meadow Bridge last week.
Smith lamented about “what little momentum we had, coming off of River View and MCA — and then we had that long layoff.
“We came out against Mount View, and that’s always tough, to get back into the swing of things when you play a team that’s as talented and as athletic as Mount View.
“Hopefully, we can get things back on track, and get some of our shooting issues straightened out. We have some winnable games coming up — that I think are winnable, or (we can) at least be competitive in.”
A second game with Fayetteville, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed by the Fayette County school. Smith said Montcalm is making efforts to reschedule both games with the Pirates.
Meanwhile, the process goes on of a team getting to know a new coach and his system.
Asked what the team has learned, Smith said, “We have learned, that there’s a lot still left to learn. We’re learning how to play with each other, how to get ourselves open, (and) what it means to have a motion offense, not just stand around.”
“Those things take time,” the coach said. “Perfect example: Friday night, a 2-3 zone just sets us back, and now we’re (saying) ‘where do we go from here?’
“It’s all a learning experience. When you have a new system and a new coach, those things are going to happen. Our goal hasn’t changed. Our goal is to be peaking in March. And I think we’re moving in that direction.”
Pennington has seen bright signs from his teammates and the coach. He said, “I’ve seen us want to play more as a team this year than we had been. He’s been getting that out of us a lot, this year.
“He’s been looking at a lot of pick-and-rolls this year, getting a lot of one-on-ones and two-on-twos. I think that’s going to help our team out a lot.”
Pennington said, “We’re going to keep getting better. We haven’t gotten our full potential out yet. Players have got to learn what they do and what they’re good at, then we can get that out of them.”
Agee said the best thing about the season from his perspective is, “We’re taking our time more, and trying to look for the open shot instead of trying to rush the game. We’re trying to get it to our post players. Instead of taking bad shots, trying to get higher-percentage shots in there.”
Rating the team’s grasp of the coaches’ new concepts on a scale of 1 to 10, the squad is “probably around a 7 or 8,” Agee said. “We pretty much know what’s going on, but we can still grow together and be better.”
He talked about a typical player’s growth in basketball skills. “Each year you pick up different things,” he said. “You try to work on shooting, and dribbling the ball, and just getting better at each and every thing.”
Fellow senior Michael Blackwell said that Smith works well with his new squad.
“He’s very hands-on,” Blackwell said. “If he sees something you’re doing wrong, or something you can improve on, he makes sure to come down and tell you.
“He doesn’t yell at you, very often. He doesn’t get all in your face like that. He just quietly takes you to the side and shows you what you need to do and how to improve on yourself.”
Blackwell and Pennington have played basketball together since sixth grade. Pennington said, “He’s one of the most committed on the team. He’s always in the gym.”
Blackwell will often open the gym at an area house of worship that several team members attend, Deliverance Temple near Brushfork, Pennington said. “He’s usually in there just about every day, working on shots and stuff,” Pennington said.
Pennington said about Agee, “He brings good defense. He’s really quick.” He said he knew Agee would be a benefit to the Generals “pretty much since middle school, when we were playing together.”
The development of the Generals is not limited to the play of its three seniors alone. Smith said, “I’ve seen some progress in all the kids.” Then he paused.
“I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen out of my two ninth graders, Zack (Coeburn) and Trent (Jenkins). They’ve really taken what we’ve been teaching them and they’ve worked on it.
“That’s shown in their progression in their JV games, so I’m really pleased with them. You can tell they’re still freshmen, but they’ve made leaps and bounds as far as their progression goes.”
Pennington said, “They’re going to help a lot in the future. Trent, he knows a lot about the game, he’s just got to put (work) into it and do it. And Zack’s tall. He’s going to get a lot better. He’s got good passes, post-entry and all that. He’s going to get better and help the team a lot.”
Blackwell said about his team’s prospects for the rest of the campaign, “The goal right now is to get to .500 — and, by the time the tournament comes around, to be a very tough team that can make some noise.”
Agee said, “We can do great things, if we work together and just try our hardest.”
— Contact Tom Bone at