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AYER — As coach Justin Carlson assumes the reins of the Ayer-Shirley boys basketball team, he will have a number of familiar faces on hand. The Panthers lost Pat Sallet and Scott Newman to graduation, but four returning starters lend experience.

“I am stressing an up-tempo style and the kids are willing and working hard,” said Carlson. “It has been fun and I am excited that I walked into a situation with a talented and experienced group of players. Our team strengths are our experience, our speed and athletic ability, our ability to score in a variety of ways, including turning turnovers into points.

“My concern entering the season is depth up front and a key for us is to get off to a quick start to build confidence,” said Carlson.

A pair of senior captains lead the Panthers into action as returning starters — Sylvester Marshall at point guard and Brent Routhier at power forward.

“Sylvester is a third-year starter and he is changing positions,” said Carlson. “He is experienced, athletic and makes great decisions. He is a pure scorer who takes the ball to the basket strongly, but he needs to get the team involved and he has played well in preseason and been very focused.

“Brent is a physical player who does the dirty work and has a knack for getting loose balls,” said Carlson. “He is a leader who works hard and offensively he has a good short-range game and is strong off the boards.”

Two other sure-fire starters will be senior Tim White at center and sophomore Ryan Richard at small forward.

“Tim was a part-time starter last season and is an energetic player with great speed,” said Carlson. “He has long arms and makes a lot of deflections defensively. He has good touch around the basket and thrives in an up-tempo game.

“Ryan had a solid freshman season and complements a good shot, with three-point range, with strong inside moves,” said Carlson. “He is a physical and smart player who rebounds well and is improving defensively.”

Competing for the final starting berth are junior Ryan Goodman and senior Tony Banchs, who both came off the bench last season, and senior Ben Monroe, a transfer.

“Ryan is quick and athletic and plays good defense,” said Carlson. “He is a streaky jump shooter, a great teammate and is one of the hardest workers on the team.

“Tony does a solid job of getting to the middle and dishing as he has outstanding court vision. He is a high-energy player whose shooting has improved and he is playing with more confidence.

“Ben is athletic and looks better every day. He is strong to the basket and is a streaky shooter. He is a quick learner. The two players who don’t get the starting berth will get quality minutes.”

A pair of players who will also get good minutes are senior guard Dashawn Taylor and sophomore guard Zak Walker.

“Dashawn is coming off an injury and is working his way back,” said Carlson. “He is an extremely strong player who provides experience and defense. Zak is up from the junior varsity team and he is a good shooter with range. He is a smart player, plays on both sides of the ball and will get better as the season progresses as he adjusts to a new level.”

Adding further depth will be senior forward Mark Calabrese, senior center Chris Durban, junior guard/forward Mark Tonelli, and junior forward Ryan Coulter. All four are up from the junior varsity team.

“Mark Calabrese is physical and has a nice 12-15 foot shot,” said Carlson. “He could become a factor as the season progresses. Chris is a dependable and coachable player with good size. Mark Tonelli is a smart player with a good shot. He needs to become more physical and adjust to the new level. Ryan has a good shot and can also take the ball to the rim.”

What are the Panthers’ goals this season?

“To compete with class and integrity, to make the Clark Tournament and the districts, and to compete for a league title,” said Carlson. “I’m very anxious for the season to start.”

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