BOYS HOOPS PREVIEW: No. 8 South Side Archers

South Side’s Ashton Johnson controls the ball during a January 4 game against Pike at the Marion Classic.

When previewing the season for Coach J.J. Foster‘s South Side Archers, you could go one of two directions.

You can make a case that South will struggle to replace its top two scorers, with Treveon Jones (17.3 ppg) and Kamron Mitchell (13.9 ppg) have graduated.

Or you could say the Archers are poised to prove that last year’s seven wins were an aberration with juniors Ashton Johnson (10.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Jaylen Lattimore (5.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) back as well as Austin Jordan (12.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.4 apg), who was limited to just five games after seeing his season end due to injury.

RELATED: Austin Jordan returns in summer ball after ACL tear

So, which direction do you lean on South Side?

It is a reasonably young group. While Jordan is a senior, just two classmates join him in 6-foot-2 wing Xzaevyon Hollister (3.3 ppg) and 6-5 center Robert Rembert. Hollister saw action in 19 games last season, while Rembert saw some spot minutes late in contests.

While the loss of Jones and Mitchell, both wings, stands out as big depletions from the roster, Dawan Parker Jr. will impact the Archers just as much in certain aspects of the game. Parker Jr. averaged 5 points and 4.3 rebounds, but his biggest asset seemed to be his ability to pull down big boards at prime moments.

The hope is that Rembert can step into the void left by Parker Jr., while junior guard Lamontrelle Manning can be a bigger scoring threat after averaging 1.3 points as a sophomore.

A trio of juniors offer some potential for Foster. Guards Martin Vazquez and Derek Ruch could develop into reliable shooters, while 6-4 forward Jerry Thomas may give South some added physicality in the post.

Freshman guard Cadell Wallace is an interesting player to watch who will dress at the varsity level.

But a lot of the Archers’ offensive success will roll through Johnson, Lattimore and Jordan.

Johnson had to step up in Jordan’s absence last year and definitely earned the respect of his coach.

Meanwhile, Lattimore plays with a controlled mean streak that is difficult to contain. The combination of a developed body coupled with his physicality is a mismatch for many.

“He is a young man full of tremendous potential,” Foster said. “He will be the key to (our) success.”

The Archers went 4-13 the rest of last season after Jordan got hurt, showcasing just how important he is with his unique skill set at the guard spot. He can control and run the offense while also being a versatile scoring threat.

“Austin is a lightning quick guard that we are expecting big things from now that he is healthy,” Foster said. “He was off to a great start last year before having his season end prematurely.

“We expect him to pick up where he left off.”

The schedule offers not much in the way of favors. South Side is set to open the season against NE8 favorite Leo, then will play NECC favorite Churubusco in mid-December. Road dates with Ben Davis, Homestead, Marion and Carroll are littered throughout January.

If the Archers are to make some noise early on both inside the SAC and outside of the league, they will need the newcomers to perform early on, with the “big 3” hitting the ground running.

South Side coach JJ Foster direct traffic during a December 26, 2019 SAC Holiday Tournament game at Wayne.

WHY #8?

The guard duo of Johnson and Jordan is one of the more underrated background tandems around. If Lattimore can be that consistent third scoring option, then the Archers will have plenty of offensive firepower to take it to opponents.

If the defense is improved and the youngsters can fill in complementary rolls, South can be a sneaky contender in the SAC.

WHY NOT HIGHER?

The Archers really struggled with direction last year when Jordan went down with injury. The defense also took a step back, particularly over the final few games of the season in which four straight opponents eclipsed 70 points.

At this point, it is safe to put South a touch below some of the better teams in the Summit.

CRITICAL GAME

JAN. 8 AT HOMESTEAD

South Side lost twice to the Spartans a year ago by a combined 47 points, showing just how much distance there was between the Archers and one of the conference’s top contenders.

If the Archers can put up a greater fight against Coach Chris Johnson’s team, then it will show this South Side squad is much improved.

CRUCIAL PLAYER

AUSTIN JORDAN, SENIOR

Back and healthy following a serious leg injury suffered in last year’s SAC Holiday Tournament, Jordan has something to prove back on the court for the Archers.

His skill set makes him difficult to contain. He can run the offense, he can score inside and out, he can dish the rock and he can get a rebound and push the offense on the break.

A healthy Jordan opens up so much for the Archers.

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