Tony Kitchings is going to take his South Aiken teammates to venues they've never been before this season.
Kitchings, a 6-foot-10, 237-pound center, is widely regarded as one of the top 10 juniors in the nation. South Aiken is going to the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach on Dec. 26-30 because of his talents.
Every team in the 24-team field has a player of star quality, and Kitchings is it for the Thoroughbreds. The last five National Prep Players of the Year have been in the tournament, including Lower Merion (Pa.) star Kobe Bryant, who is now a rookie guard with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant scored 43 points against South Aiken's region foe and eventual South Carolina Class AAAA state champion Lexington in a 76-70 win in last season's Beach Ball Classic.
Lexington did not lose another game in the 1995-96 season. Kitchings and his teammates are hoping to unseat Lexington, ranked No. 1 in the state in the coaches' poll, as Region 3-AAAA champions and state champions.
"We should be pretty good this year," Kitchings said. "We've been together three years now and we've got a veteran team. I think last year we were afraid to lose and that's why we lost half of our games."
South Aiken finished 14-12 last season, but were edged out by Orangeburg-Wilkinson on a coin toss for the fourth and final Region 3-AAAA playoff spot.
Thoroughbred coach Donnie Holland expects to see a lot of zone defenses as teams try to hold down his star. Kitchings scored 21 points in the team's season opening win, 76-47, over Greenwood on Tuesday.
Kitchings, who has 788 career points, likely will go over 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds this season. Entering this season, he had 638 rebounds.
"Tony is going to see a lot of double and triple teams which is going to leave people open to shoot," Holland said. "Somebody is going to have to hit some open shots."
Star guard Eric Toole should fit the bill. Toole is the area's No. 3 returning scorer at 17.8 points per game behind Allendale-Fairfax's Cleveland Ritter (18.1 points per game) and Kitchings (17.9 points per
game). Toole led the Thoroughbreds with 23 points against Greenwood.
"Eric Toole will have to have a great year for us," Holland said. "He had a good one last year."
The Thoroughbreds will also have great depth in the backcourt with point guard Tito Hickson and swingman Bo McCullough returning.
Holland feels his team will be better this season but so will the region.
"We're better but I think the other teams are, too," Holland said. "Five teams - Lexington, North Augusta, Orangeburg-Wilkinson, Irmo and South Aiken - on any given night can beat anybody. Airport might be down but (it) beat us last year and that cost us a playoff spot. There is no excuse for losing that game. And Aiken? For us, that's (Aiken) never an easy night."
The region coaches are not expecting a team to go unbeaten in the region the way Lexington did last season. Lexington defeated Irmo for the Class AAAA state title and Irmo has joined the region in 1996-97 because of realignment.
"I would be very surprised if somebody went undefeated in the region this year," Aiken coach Pat Keating said.
Kitchings says playing for the Augusta Metros in the Nike Peach Basket Classic last summer has prepared him for the upcoming region race. The junior at times was sensational for the Metros and proved why he's so highly regarded.
"I had a feeling if I could play with all the big boys they had there, I can play with everybody in this league," Kitchings said.
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