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PREP NOTEBOOK: Obstacles mount for South boys team

With so much inexperience at the varsity level, South Medford’s boys basketball team was already needing to play above its head in order to compete this season.

Recently, that challenge got even tougher.

South Medford played last Friday’s nonconference game at Roseburg — the true Southwest Conference season begins in earnest Friday — minus four regulars and another playing even though he likely could’ve been sidelined.

In that 69-50 road loss, the Panthers lost another player in falling to 1-13 this season.

“I’ve been around here since ‘94 and I’ve never seen this kind of luck,” said third-year South Medford head coach James Wightman. “I haven’t really had a full team in the last two years.”

“It’s tough, it really is,” he added. “My luck is not that good, and I’m not going to go to a casino anytime soon.”

Last year, the Panthers lost veteran point guard Kaleb Franklin before the season even began to a torn ACL in football and post Chase Cota, who was an early enrollee at UCLA to play football. They also essentially were without shooting guard Jaalen Owens all year due to a back injury suffered that same football season.

This year, Wightman knew the odds were long with only three players boasting varsity experience heading into the campaign, but at this point, it’s getting ridiculous.

“I’m rolling with the punches, I mean, what else can you do?” said Wightman. “I’ve been patient and hopefully we can still do some things moving forward. I really think that we can be pretty good next year, knock on wood that people stay healthy.”

The season began with standout junior Keegan Losinski sustaining an injury in the team’s second game and remaining out until the Abby’s Holiday Classic at the end of December.

South Medford’s most recent bad breaks include the loss of junior Sherman Hunter (concussion), senior Trent DeBoer (foot), junior Peyton Shepard (illness) and freshman Junior Sleezer (foot).

Senior Jake Ramsay has been battling a foot injury, believed to be gout, but has continued to play through the pain since the ailment likely won’t go away until after the season.

On Friday at Roseburg, sophomore Sypher Townley injured his leg after scoring a layup and landing awkwardly. Wightman said there is concern Townley suffered a meniscus tear.

“We’re already not the best squad there is in the world and now we’re short-handed and depleted,” added Wightman, “so we just have to be patient. It is what it is.”

In the interim, the Panthers called up junior varsity players Owen Patterson, Jeremy Gaut and Jamal Parnell last Friday, and each made an appearance against the Indians.

That, however, wasn’t much help Monday when Wightman went into practice with eight hopeful participants but quickly was down to six when Ramsay and Sleezer were unable to go full speed. Senior Bennett Smith was also out due to illness, and all JV players were unavailable since they had a game.

In full action for the Panthers were Losinski, DeBoer, Shepard, senior Giovanni Bottero, junior Ben Harmon and sophomore Jude Pannell.

Obviously, that makes for adjustments in your practice plan.

“It’s going to be a lot of working just on the fundamentals,” said Wightman. “We really can’t go up and down the floor. We’re just going to get a lot of shots up and we’ll talk about (Friday’s opponent) South Eugene and we’ll go 5-on-0 full-court and go through all of our sets and just pretend there’s an invisible 2-3 zone defense there.”

None of this, mind you, has Wightman and company pleading for sympathy.

“That’s just how it is,” he said. “We’re still going to go through it all, we’re still going to put a smile on our face and we’re still going to encourage and compete. I still think that we can surprise a couple teams and hopefully still get a couple wins in the league.”

The good news is that DeBoer and Shepard were back in action Monday, Sleezer and Ramsay were willing to give it their all and Harmon stepped up and scored a career-high 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting against Roseburg.

The bad news is that Hunter, the team’s most experienced player and leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, isn’t likely to return anytime soon after a fluke injury suffered last Thursday at the beginning of practice, when he was hit in the head by a basketball after it ricocheted off the rim at Central High School.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Hunter on Monday. “I was just standing there holding a basketball and then, bam.”

Hunter threw up moments later and, upon his return, began to complain that the gym lights “were like the sun in terms of brightness,” according to Wightman.

Assistant coach Jamie Hammericksen quickly got Hunter back to South Medford to see a trainer, but now it’s a waiting game given the concussion protocol athletes must complete.

“Sherm is one of the better shooters in the league and he might be out for two or three weeks, or possibly even the rest of the year,” said Wightman. “We don’t know with all the concussion stuff, that’s a tricky deal. By the time that he’s allowed to even ride a bike or jog, that’s like a seven-day protocol where you have to be symptom free for seven days, and he hasn’t started any of that stuff yet. We don’t know how long it’s going to be.”

All Wightman knows is the show must go on.

“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, and nobody should,” said the coach. “We’ve just got to keep our heads up and push through this.”

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford boys basketball coach James Wightman talks with his players during Monday's practice. KRIS HENRY / MAIL TRIBUNE