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New head coach takes over at the helm for the young, growing, improving Skyhawk squad

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - New Southridge boys basketball head coach Scott Entinger and Skyhawks are learning on the go with a new group.

The social media stones have been cast at the Southridge boys' basketball team from all corners.

Articles predicting the Skyhawks' rapid demise. Random posts showering praise at their Metro League counterparts. Instagram stories proclaiming anybody but Southridge as the conference favorites.

In the season's early going, Southridge has been relatively shunned of the general public's attention. The Skyhawks see it all and read it all. They have bulletin board material stored away on their phones for days. Too young, way too inexperienced, new coaching staff, etc.

Southridge is relatively unbothered by it all. Head coach Scott Entinger has his guys playing hard, playing together. The Skyhawks, while breaking in essentially an entirely new rotation, possess promise. The junior and sophomore classes are loaded with potential stars such as Brett Hanna and Jha-Barrie Portis. Seniors such as Josh Calo are the perfect type of experienced leaders who can help manage the expected ups and downs of a youthful squad. This isn't a rebuilding season from the ground up. It's the start of something new, something different.

"We see everybody saying we're going to finish last in Metro, that's just motivation for us," Calo said. "We feel like we're overlooked, so we have to go into every game, every practice, every film session, every night on the court with that underdog mindset. We're taking that and using that as fuel."

Southridge's proud tradition is rich with state tournament teams, Metro contenders, squads that won 20 games regularly. That history isn't ancient by any means. Much of the current roster was part of the program in some semblance when Southridge took third at the state tournament two years ago and reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last season. Mountainside's grand opening two years ago was a blow in more ways than one. But Southridge isn't on any sort of life support. The players who stayed like Hanna, Portis, Jackson Luster and Cedric Barnes are stoked to get their chance to play at the varsity level and carry on the tradition set before them.

"The sky is the limit for this team, we're just piecing it together, figuring out roles and how to finish games," Calo said. "I think we can be in the conversation for a Metro title. It's wide open and we feel like we can compete with any team on any night. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We're young. We're going to figure it out. We're working really hard. You see that in games. We fight until the last whistle. In practice, we're competing every day."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior point guard Sean Pak will be a key part of the Skyhawk rotation this coming season.

While program architect Phil Vesel is no longer at the helm, Entinger was his relied upon ace assistant who's been around the game forever and accepted this challenge head-on. Former players such as Grant Giraldi and Kyle Mabray are investing their time in the freshmen and junior varsity programs at the urging of Entinger who's adding to the family environment Vesel encouraged. Calo said Entinger is getting Southridge to push the tempo offensively and buy into pressurized man-to-man defense. Entinger was a favorite amongst the varsity squad when he was an assistant, a trusted ally who backed his players and supported them any way he could on and off the court. Entinger is all energy on the floor, somebody who expects the best from his team. Away from the game, he's loyal and devoted to his players, which is clear from how many ex-Hawks are now working for him in some form or fashion.

"He's laid back with the guys, but he's hard-working on the court," Calo said of Entinger. "He demands a lot of us and pushes us to our limits every single day. That's what this team needs being as young as we are. In the locker room, he's a fun guy. We all love hanging around him. He's a coach that we respect because of that."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior Jha-Barrie Portis is one of five new starters for the Skyhawks this year.

Southridge deployed so many high-caliber upperclassmen in 2018 and 2019 that it was tough for any freshmen or sophomores to truly break into the rotation and see big minutes. Even current starters like Hanna and Portis only saw spot duty behind big-time, big-name stars. In a sense, this young team has been forced to gain experience through fire and force. Yet, of their five non-league losses, three have been highly competitive and close.

"Being a little bit younger we still have some things to learn, but you can tell already how we're coming together," Calo said. "Every day we're trying to be closer and grow together in the locker room and on the court. We're going toward that end goal."

Hanna has already scored 30 points in a game. He's a first-team All-Metro kind of forward with a sweet shooting touch from anywhere on the floor, a hard-nosed defensive approach and gung-ho offensive mentality. Barnes, Luster and Dodge are big, burly, aggressive forwards who feed off of the glass, rebound tough and score in the paint. Portis and Amadou Juwara Jr. are crafty southpaw playmakers who can attack the lane creatively and knock shots from deep. Sophomore post Layne Stricker looks like a budding star, a 6-foot-5 forward who's a deadeye shooter but isn't afraid to mix it up inside. Calo is the glue guy, capable of delivering whatever the team needs on a given night. It'll be interesting to see how this team develops, but the effort level and energy are already existent.

"We have to play with high effort, high energy every possession," Calo said. "That's the only way we're going to win games. We just have to limit the turnovers and I think we'll put ourselves in a good position."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge post Cedric Barnes is one of a number of promising young players for the Skyhawks.

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