Gary Trent Jr. rises for 3 (Photo credit: Nike EYB)
In the landscape of grassroots basketball, Howard Pulley Panthers' Director Rene Pulley has more than been around the block.
In fact, he's one of the most respected figures in the field. Hilarious by nature and too humble for his own good, Pulley always find a way to dampen expectations for his squad. He tells it like it is with an incredibly refreshing personality, but he rarely breaks his modesty about the potential of his squad.
So, Pulley thinks his team 'could be better than ok' in a preseason chat, you ought to listen.
Rene Pulley is usually right in his assessment. In this case, he still didn't break his modesty, but he also didn't know how his Panthers would adapt to the rigors of the EYBL.
Rene won't say it, so we'll do it for him.
The 2016 Howard Pulley Panthers aren't just okay, they're good.
They're damn good.
Sitting at 7-0 with the proven ability to win close games and completely blow people or, the Panthers have proven themselves to be on the short list of top Peach Jam contenders.
Among the 40 EYBL programs, only the Panthers escaped the first two sessions unscathed. Head coach Antwan Harris has guided a mix of veterans and underclassmen to the best record in the EYBL, and he's done it with consistently strong defense - a staple of the Pulley program - allowing an impressive 62.9 points per game.
Tre Jones scores in the closing moments vs. Nike South Beach (Photo credit: Nike EYB)
This year, however, the offense has been just as impressive. Led by Gary Trent Jr, the EYBL's leading scorer in 2015, Pulley knew they would have a dependable scoring threat game in and game out. The difference between this year and last?
The supporting cast. And boy, have they been good.
Tre Jones has been steady at the point, playing with limited turnovers while feeding his weapons. Veterans Brad Davison and Theo John have both stepped their game up to another level, and underclassmen Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu haven't missed a beat adjusting their skillsets to the EYBL. Sprinkle in junior shooter DJ Hunter and active role-players Isaac Johnson and Jeremiah Coddon, and Pulley goes nine deep.
Harris is having fun with the weapons at his disposal, and his players are performing. The Panthers averaging 75 points per game, while shooting 49.7% from the field, 75% from the line and just over 36% from behind the arc. The implement superior ball movement, while executing their sets with pinpoint precision and accuracy. Truthfully, their efficiency is a sight to behold.
"Man, we are playing at a high level right now," Trent said of his squad. "Everybody is sharing the ball and playing hard. Coach (Harris) is calling great plays and putting us in the right spots on the floor."
They've won in a variety of different fashions, which is useful experience for their future at Peach Jam - especially after failing to qualify for the event in 2015 - the first time in program history. They are three games up in their division, and are in tremendous position to secure their berth in Hampton.
They will debut as the No. 1 team in the EYBL Power 10 released early next week. Trent, like his teammates, aren't satisfied.
"We must keep it going."