By MICHAEL KELLY
FONDA -- Senior Will Turner's presence makes the Fonda-Fultonville Braves basketball team a threat on any given night. Turner enters his fourth campaign of varsity basketball after being named The Recorder's All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the 2012-13 season and having filled out his 6-foot-7-inch frame to the tune of 230 pounds.
"I don't see a lot of teams that have players that can guard him one-on-one," F-F head coach Eric Wilson said at Monday's practice.
But that was the case last season, too, when the Braves finished 7-12. The key for F-F this time around, Wilson said, is to be able to surround Turner with enough quality players so that opposing defenses cannot double- or triple-team the star.
Heading into the 2013-14 campaign -- the Braves' first game comes against Johnstown on Nov. 27 -- Wilson said that he thinks this year's club can accomplish that task.
"We have more shooters this year," said Wilson. "Last year, we had some guys that could knock down shots, but this year we have more guys who can knock down open shots and we also have more than one guy that can get a foot in the paint."
Juniors like Kevin Myers and Ryan Scofield will provide some of that shooting, and junior Cam Ives should give the Braves an athletic presence at the forward position -- but the most pivotal player for F-F this season will be senior Luke Calkins.
The second-year starter at the point guard position had an uneven debut season for the Braves. After struggling with his offense to start the season, Calkins had a strong finish that left Wilson optimistic.
"It took him a little time to adjust to the varsity level," said Wilson. "I thought the last third of the season -- maybe even the last half -- he was a different player and I thought he was great."
Calkins admitted that the initial jump up to the varsity level was a rough one for him, helping him to realize he needed to put in a lot of offseason work.
"I knew that if I wanted to be better for my senior year, I had to definitely work a lot harder than I did in years past," Calkins said.
So, a new basketball hoop was bought for his house and he attended every offseason workout Wilson offered.
"Any opportunity I had to play basketball, I did it," Calkins said.
Wilson said the improvement has shown for Calkins and several of the other Braves.
"I'm excited about this group I have," Wilson said.
Turner said the team's first-week practices were conducted at an advanced level, as the team skipped over the elementary stuff -- basic defensive principles, general offensive sets -- that most squads work on during their first days together.
"We got right into it on day one and started playing," said Turner. "We're definitely ahead."
Senior forward Mace Madore said the reason for that is simple: Of the Braves' nine players, six are returning players, while two more -- Myers and Scofield -- practiced with the varsity for most of last season.
"We have a lot more chemistry this year," Madore said.
As the Braves prepare for another season in the Colonial Council, senior guard Zack Valachovic said F-F is ready to get going.
"We're really motivated to start strong this year and make a statement," said Valachovic. "We have a good feeling about this year."
"We can do big things," Turner said.
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