LAURINBURG — A new era is set to begin for the Scotland boys basketball program.
And the face of that fresh start is Indiana native Matthew Justin.
Justin, who was hired in early October to replace former head coach Michael Malpass, joins a Scots program coming off its first Southeastern Conference regular-season title in 14 seasons. The first-year skipper hails from the basketball-rich Hoosier State where he served as an assistant and a head coach at the high school level.
The Scots open their 2015-2016 campaign tonight at home against E.E. Smith. The contest is expected to start around 7:30 p.m.
Justin takes over a team that has seen a great deal of roster turnover since Malpass patrolled the Scotland sideline a season ago.
Three of the Scots’ leading scorers from a season ago are no longer with the program — seniors Travis Miles and Jeremias Easterling graduated, and co-Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Jordan Ratliffe transferred to Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville during the offseason.
Now that three of Scotland’s top four scorers are gone, Justin will turn to a youthful roster comprised of players that were featured on the junior varsity and freshmen teams a season ago. Seniors Randy Leak and Willie Douglas are projected to return, but Justin will have to wait until football season ends before they join the team.
The newly promoted varsity players shouldn’t be overlooked, however, given that the jayvee and freshmen teams won conference titles last year.
“We’re young, but they’ve won conference and you can tell there is talent,” Justin said.
Justin admits he is still “learning something new everyday” about his team, but is becoming more comfortable with his players now that he has spent almost a month with them.
“I’m starting to get a good feel for the kids that I’m in the gym with,” he said. “I feel like I know the kids well, but it has been a challenge coming in so late and being in a new state … .
“It’s been an adjustment, but I like the kids and I’m excited to see the area.”
Scotland’s roster only features a couple of seniors, but Justin said two in particular have helped him during the transition.
“I would say really the two guys (the players) look up to is Daekwon (Tyson) and Treshaun McIntyre,” Justin said. “None of them are real, real vocal but those two in particular have been leaders by example and by communicating a little bit.”
Justin said he and the coaching staff are still figuring out who will start as he learns the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players and said “there’s some parity there.” No tandem of players have stood out above the rest, though he hopes that is resolved as the regular season progresses.
Justin likes his teams to get up and down the court, and given Scotland’s lack of size inside, he plans to deploy some full-court pressure defenses against future opponents. On offense, the Scots will try to space the floor and draw out opponents’ big men in order to open up driving lanes and create easy scoring opportunities.
“I would prefer to use our athleticism. I like to pressure, and we’ll pressure a couple different ways. We’ll do some zone pressure a little bit,” Justin said. “Offensively, I think with the group we have, we don’t have a whole bunch of height so we’ll try to use our speed and quickness as much as possible. Hopefully it’s exciting, but we’ll see.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.