The Cleveland High boys' basketball team has plenty of talent. Coach Kevin Crider's problem has been finding the right combination as the Cavaliers struggled to a sub-.500 record.
For Wednesday's Northwest Valley Conference opener against Birmingham, Crider tried a bold move, benching three starters, including leading scorer Junior Brignac.
The initial results were far from satisfactory: Cleveland was scoreless in the first three minutes and had five points in the opening quarter.
But the desired effect surfaced in the second half as the Cavaliers (7-7) broke open a close game late in the third quarter and pulled away for a 64-52 victory at Cleveland.
"I wanted to let them know that nobody is secure," Crider said.
Which is why Jason Bolding, Josh Peltz and Emiliano Johnston replaced Brignac, Derrick McGhee and Mike Schultz for the first three minutes of each half.
But it was holdover starter Donald Holt who keyed the Cavaliers' victory. Holt finished with 21 points, 13 in the third quarter. Brignac scored 18, but struggled with his perimeter shooting, making one of five from three-point range.
"I know why I didn't start: Other guys were working harder in practice," Brignac said. "If this is what it takes to win, I don't mind [not starting]."
Cleveland wasn't the only team in transition. Birmingham (6-7) was hoping for a lift from junior center David Redmond, who quit the team last month but asked to come back a few days later. Redmond didn't play in two holiday tournaments as he nursed an ankle injury.
Redmond practiced at full strength for the first time last week, but suffered from the flu and nearly didn't play in the opener.
Redmond finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, coming off the bench for several short stretches.
"It doesn't feel any different," Redmond said. "I wasn't excited to play. It's hard to get excited when you're sick."
Sophomore Ellis Richardson scored 19 points for Birmingham but was ejected for a flagrant foul on a dunk attempt by Brignac with one second remaining in the game.
City Section rules stipulated that a player who is ejected must sit out the next game, so Richardson will be miss Friday's game against Kennedy.