Key injuries piled up quickly for Brooks, threatening early on a basketball season with promise.
By the second game, the Lions had gone through two starting post players — Paden Smith and Russell Phillips — each lost for the season to ACL tears.
A few weeks later, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, Jack Singletary, went down with a broken hand and has yet to return.
In the meantime, three other players have missed time due to injuries.
Still, here Brooks’ boys are with a 22-6 record, ranked seventh in the state in Class 4A and seemingly on course to make a Northwest Regional tournament appearance for the first time since 2005.
“We definitely didn’t want to use it as an excuse,” first-year coach Brian Wright said of the injuries. “We just talk about people having opportunities at stepping up and making the best of your opportunity. We’re pretty deep. I felt like I have seven or eight starters and only five of them can start. We’ve been able to just encourage people to step up at their time, and they’ve stepped up.”
Smith suffered his knee injury in November before the season started. Phillips, who was to take Smith’s place, sustained the same injury while driving to the basket against Colbert County in the Lions’ second game of the season.
“Losing Paden, Russell and Jack, it has hurt us a little bit,” senior guard Skyler Beck said. “Paden was a big asset to us last year down in the post. He opened up a lot of opportunities for us. It meant some other guys had to step up. Holden (Corum) has done an excellent job being a post player for us. Cole Blackstock, a sophomore has stepped up for us, too. We knew it was going to be tough and we were going to face adversity losing them. We just had to come together as a team. Everybody has done their part.”
Corum, who listed at 6-foot-4 is one of the team’s taller remaining players, was forced to play more in the post, though it’s not exactly his style.
“Coach gets mad at me a lot because I don’t post up,” Corum said. “It’s a transition I’ve had to make. When Paden was there, I played on the perimeter more, shooting more, which I enjoyed a little more than having to do the dirty work, I guess you could say.”
The development of Blackstock, listed at 6-foot-5 with a bulkier build than Corum, also has helped Brooks’ inside game. He had 16 points and eight rebounds in a Lauderdale County tournament-opening win against Central. The Lions went on to win their second straight county title.
Though it doesn’t happen very often, when Corum and Blackstock find themselves on the floor at the same time, it frees up Corum to revert to his former, preferred, face-the-basket role. He had 21 points and sank 3 of 4 3-pointers in that same county tournament opener.
The leadership of Beck and perimeter shooting of Jacob Richardson also have helped the Lions significantly, Wright said.
There have been other injuries, too.
Singletary has missed 15 games with the broken hand. He had his cast removed last week, but he’s awaiting a doctor’s clearance. Wright hopes he’ll return in time for the area tournament next Friday or sub-regionals the following week.
Drew Thompson, who comes off the bench, missed the season’s first seven games with a sprained ankle.
A groin injury kept shifty guard Rae Beasley off the court for five games mid-season.
Chris Crews, the Lions’ sixth man, suffered a concussion during the first quarter of the county tournament championship game against Mars Hill on Jan. 19 and missed four games before returning last week.
The latest to miss time are Corum and Sam Lemaster, who are out with the flu.
“We just try to play with what we’ve got,” Wright said. “These guys refuse to make excuses, and, for the most part, we’re tough-minded,” Wright said. “We just try to go out and play hard every night and really try to win it on the defensive end.”
Outside of injuries, the Lions arguably faced their next greatest adversity against a first-year area opponent in Haleyville they haven’t been able to crack.
Haleyville won both meetings, once by two and the other by three, which is why it will host the Class 4A, Area 15 tournament. Brooks begins play there against Priceville on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m.
Haleyville’s defensive-minded, physical, post offense-oriented style has given Brooks trouble. Brooks averages around 60 points a game but managed 50 and 49 in the two losses to Haleyville.
“We didn’t really rebound the ball well either time,” Corum said. “They have some big guys. Peyton would probably have been good guarding them. Both times we’ve played them, we’ve gotten in some foul trouble, so it’s affected how we’ve had to play.”
Win the area tournament opener against Priceville, and Brooks is at least assured a road game in the sub-regional round of the playoffs. Beat Haleyville for the first time this season, and Brooks will be hosting a sub-regional game for the second straight year. This time, they’d have the luxury of not having to host a perennial power like Butler, which beat the Lions by 20 in the 2012 sub-regionals.
Beck said the Lions have to look back no further than their Lauderdale County tournament run, capped with a dramatic overtime comeback against 3A No. Mars Hill, to prove they can do it.
“That’s definitely the highlight of our season,” Beck said. “Being down 13 (against Mars Hill) with 4 minutes left, it shows we’ve got a lot of fight and a lot of heart in our team. We’re not every going to give up. That’s the highlight so far of our season. The way we played late in the fourth quarter, if we bring that intensity every night, I think we’ve got a good shot of going how far we want to go.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bappster on Twitter.