Tough schedule prepares First Baptist

First Baptist's Nate Jenkins leads the Hurricanes in scoring this season at 20.9 points per game.

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First Baptist boys basketball coach Jeff Whittle insists this is a completely different team than last season's edition that captured its third straight SCISA Class AA title.

That might be so, but look for the Hurricanes to have the same success as in past years.

"We graduated some key players from last year's team," said Whittle, whose team is 14-7 despite playing an ultra-competitive schedule. "We lost three key seniors, including the Kershaw twins."

The Kershaw twins, Jarvis and Jarrett, had big roles in last year's 24-7 season. Jarvis averaged 15 points and 6.2 rebounds, and Jarrett averaged 14 points and 4.3 assists.

Last March, Jarvis Kershaw hit a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left in the SCISA Class AA state championship game against Spartanburg Christian to give the Hurricanes a one-point lead, and he added two more free throws with seven seconds left to give the Hurricanes a 51-48 victory and their third straight state championship. All three titles came at the expense of Spartanburg Christian, including two three-point decisions.

But there still is plenty of talent left. Nate Jenkins, who led the team in scoring last winter, is again at the top of the list with 20.9 points per game. He is one of three seniors who are captains along with Greg Gilliam and Michael Bocklet.

Junior guard Bradford Allen averages 10.3 points, while promising point guard Shaquille Richardson is averaging 8.7 points per contest. The 6-1 sophomore runs the offense and is averaging 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

The team has two goals. One is to win the region and other is the ultimate prize -- a fourth straight state title. The Hurricanes have taken their lumps playing a schedule that includes four Class AAAA teams from the High School League: Lexington, White Knoll, Blythewood and Colleton County. They also play Bishop England and Baptist Hill, members of the High School League.

"Playing teams like that helps us in the long run," Whittle said. "Playing tough competition now will help us later when the state playoffs begin. We're starting to hit our stride at just about the right time. We beat Porter-Gaud the other night, but still have to get a little better offensively and defensively. We have some big games coming up. We play Thomas Heyward (tonight) and Charleston Collegiate on Tuesday."

The Charleston Collegiate game should be half of the deciding factor on which team wins the region. The other game that will influence the race for the title is the season finale against the Sun Devils.

Jenkins, the team's leading scorer, has been accurate all season. He's hitting 63 percent on his 2-point shots and 45 percent from 3-point land.

"He's an outstanding player," Whittle said. "He's one of the best shooters I've ever coached, if not the best. His work ethic is outstanding too."