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Valley Sports Report
ATHENS - Second-year Athens boys basketball coach Jim Lister returns his starting five en tact and is excited at the prospects for the 2021-21 season.

(Athens opens its season against Johnson City tonight in the opening round of the Johnson City Tip-Off Tournament.)

As usual, Lister has some lofty goals this season.

"Obviously our goal ever year is to win a championship," he said. "I think we have the pieces in place to do that, and have an opportunity to do that.

"We have a lot of goals," noted Lister. "We want to play well at Johnson City (Tournament), we want to play well in the (Valley) Christmas Tournament, we'd like to win the NTL, and we'd love to make a run at a District title - that would be fantastic.

"Do I think we have the tools to do that? I do," added Lister. "We're long, we're athletic, and we have a lot of size. We'll see if we can put it all together, and the key is we have to play together."

Senior Tucker Brown will run the Wildcats at point guard, with 6-5 senior J.J. Babcock and junior Mason Lister rotating at the 2-3 guard positions.

Seniors Nalen Carling and Troy Pritchard will play in the low post.

"I'm excited about having my entire starting line-up returning," said Lister.

Two key pieces for the Wildcats off the bench will be underclassmen - freshman Kolsen Keathley and sophomore Korey Miller.

"Kolsen Keathley has been working very hard in the preseason, and will likely see a large chunk of varsity time," said Lister.

"Korey has improved tremendously," added Lister. "He is a very good ball-handler and he just doesn't make mistakes, he doesn't turn the ball over."

Senior Ryan Thompson, juniors Lucas Kraft, Carson Smith, and Chris Mitchell, and freshman Xavier Watson will also vie for time off the bench.

Lister notes this group has played a great deal of basketball together and that familiarity is a strength.

"What I'm seeing so far is team unity," he said. "They are very much a family, they care about one another.

"Their intensity at practice has been really, really good. I just get this sense that they really want to win," said Lister. "I've been with these kids since they've been in second grade. And for four of those five kids, it's their senior year.

"They've worked real hard for this year. They're putting in the time now, and practices have been great," added Lister. "Everyone is excited and we're looking forward to a very challenging season."

The "challenge" is a non-league schedule that includes Johnson City, Williamsport, Waverly, and Dallas.

"I would say keeping focused, and how we handle adversity is my biggest concern," said Lister. "We have a really tough schedule this year, and I set it up that way.

"We open up with Johnson City, and I know they have a good program. We went to Dallas last year and got beat pretty handily. They're coming here this year," he noted. "We have Williamsport coming here this year, I know that's a good program.

"And our NTL schedule is stout. It was stout last year, it will be stout again this year.

"There are no nights off for this team," added Lister. "There is going to be a lot of adversity for them, and how they handle it, and what they do ... we're putting a lot of effort into that to make sure they are ready and can handle it."

Lister believes the Large School Division will be competitive again this year.

"Obviously, Troy is the defending NTL champion, so they would be the No. 1 roadblock to an NTL title," said Lister.

"But looking around, Wellsboro is going to be real good again," he added. "And coach Kipper (Burleigh) always does a nice job at Mansfield. You can never count them out, ever."

The Small School Division will offer challenges as well.

"Canton is the other team ... they are going to be a really tough team," said Lister. "They have guards and they have size.

"And, Wyalusing is going to be real tough again," he added.


IN PHOTO: Athens coach Jim Lister. ... VSR STOCK PHOTO.

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