The premise of Lakeside High School boys basketball this season has been nailing the basics.
The Panthers want to box out, denying opponents second-chance opportunities, limit turnovers and run the floor to cut off easy baskets.
With a veteran team, the fundamentals might come easier. For the Panthers, who were thin on returning experience this year, senior Michael Punch has been one tasked with leading the way.
Punch found himself in the role after serving his junior season as a sixth man -- the first man off the bench. He received a lot of playing time, but still had to deal with the nerves of coming off the bench.
During summer ball, Punch knew he would be called on to start the following season. The assurance of having a spot in the starting lineup, coupled with the game experience from the season before, allowed him to relax and fill a bigger role.
"I wasn't afraid," Punch said last week, before the Panthers started this week's Region 3-AAAA tournament. "I was pretty confident in myself, I guess."
His challenge was to help the Panthers' new-look lineup play together. He had help from seniors Chris Hartfield and Kha- di Tshishiku, both of whom saw lots of playing time as juniors.
Without height, Lakeside relied on its shooting. Shooting requires a rhythm, and the Pan-thers could not find one if they were in disarray on the court.
"Because I've been there, I probably don't feel as much pressure as some of them do, so I try to make them as comfortable as possible on the court," Punch said. "If they're out of control or anything, I try to calm them down. I know that they can play. They just have to cope with everything."
He said he often has to keep his own emotions in check so they won't affect his play. He said he likes to start games by hitting his jump shots, opening up the possibility of head fakes and drives to the basket.
When the basketball season is done, Punch will join his other teammates as a member of Lakeside's soccer team. Punch started for the Panthers soccer team as a junior. He played club soccer for the Augusta Arsenal until his senior year. Punch also played AAU basketball before breaking from both to enjoy his senior year.
"It was kind of a lot to do," he said. "This year being my senior year, I just wanted to relax and concentrate on basketball."
Punch's high school years will be behind him soon. He grew up a fan of the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes, but aims to attend the University of Georgia for its in-state advantages.
"I've done a lot of work to try to go there," he said.
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