by Evan Devould
The Bartlett Panthers boys’ basketball team has become the trendy pick to come out of the AAA division. They are anticipated to represent the City of Memphis in the upcoming state tournament hosted in Murfreesboro, TN. The Panthers are returning all five starters from last season. They are returning a 20+ win team that advanced to sub-state, before losing to Whitehaven in a very close and exciting game. This season the Panthers hope to have a different ending. Last season Bartlett lost 2 of their key players, Jeff Walker and Jalen Cincore due to injuries. Although this season, there is extensive hype circulating throughout the city about the surprise arrival of “Top 100” national recruit Antavion Collum. Below are the five reasons I think the Bartlett Panthers have a tremendous chance at being one of the top teams in the state:
1. The Head Coach: Coach Dion Real brings a wealth of experience to the head coaching duties at Bartlett. Prior to his arrival, he coached high school basketball in the small town of Trumann, Arkansas and AAU basketball. He further advanced his coaching prowess by becoming an assistant at the Division 1 level at UT Martin. Coach Real brings a no nonsense mentality and demeanor. For example, when asked: What do you expect out of your team every day? He responded, “Do what’s right at all times and always work hard.” Also when asked: Does your team feel the pressure of returning all key players an adding Top 100 prospect Antavion Collum? He responded, “We know what the expectations are, but we just want to focus on being better than what we were yesterday.”
2. Antavion “Dude” Collum: There is no shortage of hype surrounding the 6’7 freakishly athletic wing. Collum is one of the top recruits in the country, and his impact at Bartlett this season is sure to be felt. When asked about Antavion Collum, “He just works so hard, and he is so versatile. He can contribute with or without the ball in his hands.” said Coach Real. Back in June, the versatile wing narrowed down his top 7 prospective collegiate schools which include: Florida, Florida State, Louisville, UNLV, Missouri, Georgetown, and Ole Miss.
3. Jeff Walker: The senior point guard has been a starter in this Bartlett program all four years. He has flown under the radar to a lot of people around the country. Walker was injured towards the end of last season, but is expected to have breakout season this year for the Panthers. When asked about Walker, Coach Real went on and on about how much he means to the program. “The sky is the limit for him, and whoever gets him in college is getting a steal”. The point guard is the leader on the court for the Panthers. With him being back healthy, this makes Bartlett a scary team to compete against this season. Walker has flown under the radar so far, but I don’t expect that to be the case after this season.
4. Jalen Cincore: The 6’5 wing was also injured last season which resulted in him missing the remainder of the season. He would have definitely made an impact for the Panthers towards end of last season. The good part about it, the senior has bounced back and blew up over the summer. According to Coach Real, the 6’5 athlete picked up about ten Division 1 offers over an impressive summer campaign. Some of the offers received include: Arkansas State, Lipscomb University, Tennessee Tech, and Georgia Southern to name a few. Jalen is expected to have an impact on a loaded team this season and is fully expected to see those offers to continue to pour in this season.
5. Culture: In my interview, I realized that the culture around this Bartlett Panthers program is: “Work for what you want”. Coach Real preached discipline within his program and he believes if you always work hard everything will take care of itself. He stated, “I believe in always being prepared and doing what’s right.” That type of culture and mindset will go a long way as the Bartlett Panthers enter the most anticipated season in recent years for the program. Coach Real also stated, “The goal is to get better every day.” He is also aware that the pressure is there from a lot people with high expectations. If the Panthers want to be a contender for the division AAA state title, having this culture cemented might just be what sets them apart from the rest.