Basketball tryouts began this season with a problem Harlem coach Kim Chambers had never encountered before.
Chambers, who coaches both the boys and girls basketball teams, entered the gym on the first day of tryouts to find 60 Harlem boys hoping to earn a spot on the 17-member roster.
"We've never had this many before," Chambers said. "I couldn't tell you why so many came out."
Just under a month ago, Chambers and his coaching staff began the tedious process of whittling the roster down to a manageable size. With so many potential Bulldogs trying out, Chambers said the competition was intense.
"In the past we've always had a lot of people drop off as we continue tryouts," he said. "This year that hasn't happened. We've had to figure out who would accept certain roles and go from there."
After a series of three cuts, the Bulldogs had their roster. With three starters returning to the squad this year, the team hopes to have the ball bounce their way after many close calls last season.
"Last year we lost nine games by nine points or less," Chambers said. "We're hoping that our senior leadership will correct that."
Four of the seven Harlem seniors will start this season. Eric Beard, a shooting guard, has already drawn attention from at least one college.
Beard and teammate Sean Hackshaw will try to fill the shoes of graduated three-point specialist Sonjay Boyd from last season's squad.
Fellow seniors Wesley Gower and Ajay Miller will take over underneath the basket for the Bulldogs, while junior Demarcus Morris will run the Harlem offense as the team's starting point guard.
"We might have the most talent as a group," Chambers said. "We've got to hustle and out-scrap other teams."
On the girl's side of the ball, the Lady Bulldogs look at the 2005-06 season as a continuation of last season.
"Everybody's back," Chambers said. "We're not exactly where we need to be, but we're ahead of where we were last year."
Last season's squad peaked in the region playoffs. The team came within one game of the state playoffs after winning a region tournament play-in game over Butler and scoring an upset over St. Vincent's in the region tournament.
A big reason for the playoff push was the athleticism of starting guard April Woodard.
Woodard averaged more than 16 points per game in a season that saw the Lady Bulldogs record more wins (11) than any other Harlem girls basketball team since 1999.
Now a senior, Woodward is getting attention from a few colleges who would like to make her pure shooting motion a part of their offense.
Before she moves on to the next level, Woodward will be getting most of the attention from opposing defenses this year.
The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs begin their seasons playing host to Taliaferro County on Monday, with the girls game starting at 5 p.m.
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