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PREPS HOOP PREVIEW: Sweet 16 Indians may actually be better

Albany High boys basketball coach Archie Chatmon, center, not only has all five starters back off his Sweet 16 team from last season, he got another unexpected addition in Tyrone Culbreth, who left last year for Deerfield, only to return this season.

Albany High boys basketball coach Archie Chatmon, center, not only has all five starters back off his Sweet 16 team from last season, he got another unexpected addition in Tyrone Culbreth, who left last year for Deerfield, only to return this season.

ALBANY — This may never happen again, and Albany High boys basketball coach Archie Chatmon laughs when he says it.

“I’ve got six starters back,’’ said Chatmon, who has a lot to smile about these days. “I didn’t even know that could happen.’’

He’s serious. Not only does Albany High return all five starters from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last year, but Tyrone Culbreth, a 6-foot-4 junior, is back. Culbreth started at Albany High as a freshman two years ago, then left to go to Deerfield-Windsor, where he was an inside presence for the state-playoff Knights last year.

He has now returned to Albany High, where there’s a lot of excitement over the basketball program. The Indians (13-12 last year) turned their season around down the stretch last year and marched to the Class AA Sweet 16 before losing on the road to Lamar County, 63-53, in a game Chatmon felt his team could have won if they had been at home.

If they win the Region 1-AA title this year, they will secure the home court advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and that’s just one of Albany High’s goals this season.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had five starters back,’’ Chatmon said. “We’ve had three or four, but never five. It’s a new feeling for us.

“Going to the second round in the playoffs last year means we will be setting the bar real high this year. Our expectations are to do better than last year.’’

The Final Four could be in reach.

“We all start out wanting to win the state championship every year,’’ Chatmon said. “Everybody says that and feels that way at the beginning of the year. You always want to take one more step, and if we take the next step (to the Elite 8) this year, then it gets serious.’’

They’re serious at Albany High. And why not?

Herald Super 6er Tim Pierce and Larry Sanford led the team in scoring last year, both averaging 16 points a game, and they gave the Indians solid guard play at both ends of the court. They even rebounded well. In fact, Pierce, a 6-1 guard, led the team in rebounding with six per game. Kenny Anderson, a 6-1 senior, plays the wing, and Chatmon brings back what he calls his “Roly-Polys” inside.

That’s Jontavious Morris (6-2, 296) and Roscoe Byrd (6-2, 320) who are the co-captains of the football team and co-captains of the basketball team. They both score about five points a game and both average about five rebounds a game, but they do everything right from blocking out, to taking charges to leading the team on and off the court.

“They are our biggest strength,’’ Chatmon said. “They are the heart and leadership of this team. They don’t have gaudy numbers, but they are the strength of this team because of everything they do. They fight hard for the ball, they play defense and they take charges. Nobody practices harder than they do. They lead by example on the floor, in practice, in the school, on the bus, in the classroom.’’

Byrd and Morris will be joined inside by Culbreth, who gives Albany High an immediate scoring threat, rebounder and shot blocker.

“He’s going to make a tremendous difference,’’ Chatmon said of Culbreth, the only junior in the Albany six. The rest of the starters are all seniors — seniors who are hungry to make a run at the state title.

“This is the best team I’ve had in seven or eight years,’’ said Chatmon, who has seven seniors on his team but doesn’t allow any of his players to speak to the media — a longstanding policy that dates back two decades. “And this is the deepest team I’ve ever had. We have a whole bunch of 6-2 guys, and if I had to play my 12th man we wouldn’t fall off very much.’’

Chatmon smiled and added.

“It’s feels good,’’ he said. “It’s been a long time ... ”