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Madison-Grant girls are young, athletic

ARGYLLS: Madison-Grant’s first-year girls basketball coach Brandon Bradley works with freshmen Gracey Fox (left) and Azmae Turner (5) on how to defend a ball screen during the Argylls’ practice Monday in Fairmount. M-G opens its season hosting Wes-Del at 7:30 p.m. today.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

FAIRMOUNT — There are many new faces on the Madison-Grant girls’ basketball team for the 2018-19 season, including first-year head coach Brandon Bradley.

Bradley was hired near the end of summer to replace Elizabeth Garrasi and because of the fall sports season had minimal time to work with his new team.

“Summer I was only able to attend one open gym because of the hire date. We tried to do some things in the fall, but we had only three or four kids at open gyms the first month,” said Bradley, who coached at New Castle last season and Whitko the previous six. The last week or two of open gyms in preseason we had seven to nine, then when (official practice) started we added (six) volleyball kids.

Bradley now has 16 girls to go to battle with when the Argylls host Wes-Del at 7:30 p.m. today to open the season.

The Argylls have good size, though they’ll start the season without 5-foot-10 junior forward Morgan Conliff, who is recuperating from an injury she suffered in the volleyball season. Madison-Grant also has athleticism to go with its size, as most every girl on Bradley’s roster is involved in multiple sports.

What M-G is lacking most is experience. The Argylls have just one senior on the roster, and McKayla Sutton is out for the first time since her freshman year. Conliff, her junior classmates Kayla Comer and Blayklee Stitt along with sophomore Zoey Barnett are the lone Argyll returnees with varsity experience, and all but Conliff played in every game last year.

Bradley is encouraged and excited about his group, which also features three freshman who will gain a lot of experience.

“We’ve had a productive three weeks so far especially considering everything is new to them,” Bradley said. “I’ve been purposefully slow putting stuff in. I want to make sure we are very on point with learning the proper concepts of everything we’re going to do and not rush any of it because at the end of the day I’m fairly consistent and I’m not going to change up stuff every single game.”

The 6-foot Comer was a regular starter last season and is the Argylls’ leading returning scorer (5.1 points) and rebounder (7.3). Bradley thinks he’ll get much more production from Comer this season.

“Kayla has done a good job of adapting or making her play more active and away from the rim at times,” Bradley said. “She’s a lot quicker footed than I think people anticipate with her and she uses her length really well. I think offensively, you’ll see her be a lot more productive, but I also think you’ll see her do a lot more things.”

Barnett will also try to pick up the scoring from the graduation of the terrific guard tandem of sparkplug Danyelle Hutson (18.6 ppg) and sweet-shooting Maddi Evans (10.0). With Conliff still recovering, Barnett will play a versatile role for the Argylls.

“Zoey is having to play inside, she’s having to play outside some and I’ve been impressed with how much she’s been to retain because we’ve been asking her to do double work and learn multiple positions,” Bradley said. “Once she settles in and is more of a true wing, she’s going to be a lot more comfortable. She’ll probably be our most aggressive scorer. She’s physical and does some really nice things around the basket and I don’t want to take that away either.” 

 

Stitt was the primary backup to Hutson and Evans last season and appeared in all 23 games. She averaged 2.4 points, an assist, a steal and a rebound per game last season.

“She’s quick and feisty and really enjoying it right now,” Bradley said of Stitt. “She’ll be really good for us, defensively, and she’ll do a nice job getting inside the defense, offensively, and putting pressure on them.”

“It’s a transition from being an energy kid off the bench to now having to play and handle the ball 90  percent of the time,” he added.

Perhaps the biggest learning curve will fall on the Argyll freshman, who were playing against eighth grade competition last winter and will now be battling with bigger and stronger girls. But Bradley believes 5-8 guard Azmae Turner and 5-11 post player Gracey Fox will be able to learn at the varsity level quickly.

“Gracey Fox, strong athletic, has all the physical tools to be a really good high school player for four years,” Bradley said. “The big thing with her is, in Tuesday’s scrimmage (at Fort Wayne Luers) she was a little nervous, then started to see that she can’t get away with some of the things maybe she did last year in eighth grade. She’s not going to be able to back everybody down and power her way to rim.

“She’ll have to continue working on post moves and play away from the rim a little. It’s encouraging because she has the skills to do so,” he added.

Bradley said Turner also could be an impact player for the next four seasons at M-G. Turner has good length to her 5-8 frame, plays fluidly, has good skill and a high basketball IQ already. Turner’s thin stature is of concern right now but also part of the teaching process Argyll coaches are working on with her. 

“While she’s developing strength, we’re trying to teach her how to play lower to the ground and use a wider base with her lower body,” Bradley said of Turner. “She’s going to come up with a lot of steals because of her length and instinct. It will be progressive with her this year, but I think by the end of the season she’s gong to be a complete different player than she is right now.”

 

Bradley also expects Sutton to play an important role for Madison-Grant. 

“She’s athletic, got some quickness, plays extremely hard and is a tough kid,” Bradley said of Sutton. “She’ll be really good for us defensively, she does a nice job of battling bigger players inside. She’s skilled like a guard but she’s not afraid of getting inside and rebounding. Give half of dozen games and (Sutton) is going to be one of our better players.”

Juniors Kasey Cleaver and Bryleigh Sullivan along with freshman Chelsea Bowland will add depth to the Argylls bench.

Bradley said much of preseason time has been focused at the defensive end of the floor, by design.

 

“Everywhere I’ve been, I don’t care if you’ve got a young inexperienced team or if you have an old veteran team, offense is always the last to come around,” he said. “One thing we’ve stressed is you can always control your effort and energy your defensively. We’re really trying to be sound at that end of the floor while we wait on our comfort level offensively to come.”

And Bradley is getting the effort from the Argylls he desires. Still, that’s not what he has enjoyed the most about his young group.

“The thing about this group that’s most impressive is just their sheer intelligence. They always practice hard are always are attentive,” he said. “They don’t usually make the same mistake twice... We are very good with the cognitive stuff, we’re solid with the athletic stuff, the next thing is just getting a comfort level in the program, in the system.

“I really think that come Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas, you’re going to start seeing a different team kind of turn the corner,” he added. “Now we’re kind of that fly in ointment and we’re really bothering people because we’re playing harder than they are, we’re playing smarter than they are and we’re working together as one unit. That goes a long way, especially at the 2A level.”