Season Outlook: Athens Bulldogs

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Head coach Jeff Skinner has high expectations for his Athens Bulldogs this season.

The ‘Dogs were able to win the TVC-Ohio with 22 wins last season, but fell to Warren in the regional semifinals. The loss to Warren, their former SEOAL rival, came in an overtime thriller; a game in which Joe Burrow and Ibi Watson combined for 50 points.

Burrow and Watson were major contributors last season, and Skinner will have the opportunity to hone their skills over the next two seasons.

Watson had a breakout season last year as a freshman and is key to the Bulldogs’ success again this year. He had a great offseason, showing his physical prowess by helping the Bulldogs win their summer league.

The Athens starting five will likely include Burrow, brothers Ryan and Adam Luehrman, Watson and Zacciah Saltzman. Skinner will potentially have the same players next season as well, barring injuries or transfers.

The Bulldog offense was one of the best in the conference last year, and Skinner has a unique view on how the team’s offense will operate this year.

“Our base offense is motion offense,” said Skinner. “We hope to create most of our offense through our defense.”

Athens is a young team and they are looking to develop their young core like sophomores Saltzman and Watson and incoming freshman Griffin Lutz. Skinner has high hopes for Lutz because the ‘Dogs were in need of one thing last year—a true point guard. With Lutz coming in, Burrow and Watson will be able to see more time at the shooting guard and small forward position where they can be used to their full potential.  

Joe [Burrow] is terrific in the low post,” said Skinner. “Joe’s our point guard but he may be the best low post player in southeastern Ohio.”

This season will prove to be a tough one for the ‘Dogs, who are set up for a difficult schedule that includes Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, famously known as NBA superstar LeBron James' alma mater, as well as all of the tough TVC-Ohio teams.

The Bulldogs are also traveling to Florida this year for a tournament that will include top teams from New York, Miami and other basketball powerhouses, which will prepare them for their postseason ambitions.

“I think our out-of-conference schedule is tough, so it helps us in terms of play,” said Skinner. “If we would do something and get really lucky and get to the state semifinals, well, we’ve already played two or three really good teams out of Florida and we’ve already played [St. Vincent-St. Mary], so it won’t be a shock to play against that kind of competition.”

The Bulldogs have the potential to go deep in the tournament the next two seasons, with no seniors in the starting five and some great young players coming off the bench, as well. This year has the potential to be a very good year in Athens’ boys basketball history.

“We have very high expectations this year,” said Skinner. “We won 22 games last year and made it to the regional semifinals. We were a whisper from playing in the regional finals, which means you’re a whisper from playing in the state tournament. So our expectations are very, very high.”