“(Talladega) has a good tradition of basketball and they play very fast and they press and they get after you,” Sylacauga head coach Will Copeland said. “They’re going to do a lot of things well—they shoot well, they rebound well, and they press well. We’ve just got to work hard just to compete because they’re such a good team, not only their record but just how well they play.”
The coaches of both teams have seen positives, but also see many areas that need improvement this early in the season.
“We’ve played nine games and at certain times we’ve played pretty good, but at certain times we’re not executing like we should so there’s room to get better,” Talladega head coach Chucky Miller said. “There are places to get better: shooting, rebounding and defense. We’ve just got to get better in some aspects. I’m happy with how we’re starting to play with nine games so far, seven of them have been on the road. So, you’ve got to be happy.”
Copeland wants to see the same level of play every night.
“We’ve played well in spurts; we’ve played well in quarters,” Copeland said. “We played Anniston and got down 16 at halftime and came out in the second half and tied it up and they beat us at the buzzer. I just think the main thing is the way we’re playing is very inconsistent and we’ve got to more consistency. We’ve got to react well when things are bad. We did a few good things against Chilton County. We won, but we made some free throws and we got some stops on one end. It seems like when the ball gets rolling, I called timeout and explained to them and sometimes these players have got to step up and make some plays.”
Among shared opponents, both teams have won close home games against Childersburg; Talladega defeated Anniston on the road, while Sylacauga lost to Anniston by two points, also on the road.
“We have to come out and play our very best game to have a chance to win because they’re that talented, they’re that well-coached,” Copeland said. “They have some weapons that you’ve got to keep under control. If you don’t stop (Ahmad) Gooden inside and you don’t stop their shooters and you don’t handle their pressure, they’re going to get after you. It’s going to be tough to come back against something like that.”
Miller believes his team will have to play at a high level to leave with a win, especially after Sylacauga’s impressive home showing during the IPS Invitational in which they won three games.
“I know they’ve got good size inside,” Miller said of Sylacauga. “They’re going to have us four or five inches inside. Guard-wise, I think we match up. I know they’re very quick and athletic. Kadeem Jackson—he was such a great shooter for them last year. I know they’re trying to get him a lot of shots and Rodney Gilbert, who played two years ago is a real good guard. I’m just hearing good things about their guard play, especially in that tournament where they beat Childersburg, Comer and Carver-Birmingham. That impressed people.”
Jackson is Sylacauga’s leading scorer so far this season, as he averages 13.0 points per game. Gilbert is the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 11.3 points per game.
Copeland said the combination of a county, area and rivalry game make Sylacauga-Talladega a matchup of great interest.
“It’s in the county and it’s an area game, there’s going to be a lot of interest in being so close together and competing back and forth over the years,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of people who want their side to win. I think it’s a healthy competition. That’s what basketball is all about; it’s not a hatred, it’s just you’re playing this team and you want to win and they want to win. At the end of the night, you shake hands and you look forward to hopefully getting to play them again.”
Sylacauga plays Talladega tonight at 7:30 p.m. The varsity girls teams of both schools play prior to the boys game with tipoff schedule for 6 p.m.