BENTON – After an undefeated 7A/6A South Conference season last year and a semifinals loss to the Jonesboro Golden Hurricane in the 6A State Tournament, the Benton Panthers have a lot to live up to after breaking the school record with 27 victories against just three losses last year.
But, not only have the Panthers lost five seniors which contributed heavily to the South champions, but Benton has a new coach in the interim after former Head Coach Chris Nail took the assistant principal's position.
Well, new head coach that is, as interim Head Coach Dwaine Fishburn is no stranger to Benton Athletics and has been the assistant coach during Nail's tenure as head coach. Fishburn, along with another Benton stalwart, interim Assistant Coach David Torres, who was the Benton Junior High Coach for years before, will run the current Panther program the 2013-14 season.
But those five graduated players, All-State point guard Bryan Torres, guards Rickey Gipson (All-State) and Quin Allen (All-Conference), All-Conference post player Graham Gardner and forward Zach Stuckey, before Stuckey was shut down for the season after 10 games due to an illness, will be missed.
But, the Panthers aren't without talent. Benton returns All-State forward and Saline County leading scorer, senior Josh Bowling, who averaged 17.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. Senior forward Blake Bowlin looks to see a lot more action after providing a spark off the bench last season.
"This group, varsity minutes, you're looking at Blake Bowlin and Josh Bowling as the only two guys that has any true varsity minutes," Benton Coach Dwaine Fishburn said. "Luke [Vincent] and Tarek [Beaugard] got just a tad, not very much. And Blake only played on the perimeter. He was our shooting guard. Because we're so small and have so few numbers that we're having to use him on the inside where he's not accustomed to playing."
Other seniors looking to contribute is guard Luke Vincent and senior guard Tarek Beaugard, and sophomore guard Cason Maertens, both quarterbacks for the Benton football team and should get serious playing time once the football Panthers are finished with their season.
"It's about chemistry," Fishburn said. "These kids have never played together before. We just have to play. We've had 62 practices, but you can only get so good practicing. You've got to practice, play, and then correct what you've done wrong; and continue to play and correct."