Young Spartans hope to blend inside, outside game
For the second year in a row, East Ascension loses four starters off a team that advanced as far as the Class 5A quarterfinals.
The Spartans blistered out to a 23-2 mark in non-district play before being hindered in 6-5A action placing fifth overall with a 3-7 mark last season.
However, East Ascension still made a presence in the playoffs defeating Brother Martin and upsetting St. Thomas More in the first two rounds before falling to district foe and state runner-up Hahnville 63-46 in the quarterfinals, a year removed from their first Top 28 appearance in 20 years.
“We lost four starters two years in a row,” East Ascension head coach Kenny Almond said. “Last year, the guys that stepped in were seniors. This year, the guys that are stepping in are sophomores and juniors. Not only do they not have varsity experience but they are even younger players. That is going to be tough. Last year, they were ready because they were older. Things are going to come up in games that we haven’t seen. We have a long way to go.”
Gone is first-team all-district pick Quinn Coco, along with honorable mention selections Gary Weber and Ferrell Strode and key contributors Kenny Varnado, Corey Lane and Kerry Weber.
“We are very, very young,” Almond said. “We really don’t have a set lineup, yet. We do have a little depth but we are counting on freshmen, so I am anxious to see how we are going to react.”
The Spartans’ lone returning starter is senior center Keith Fleming. Sharp shooter Tyler Wright, Curtis Watts and Bobby Madere join freshmen point guard Donald LeBlanc in the starting rotation and DeAndre Smith, Devonte Fisher, Kadarius Williams, John Paul Williams and Willie Williams provide depth.
“A lot of things revolve around Keith,” Almond said. “When he doesn’t play too fast for his own good, he is very effective. He is pretty tough when he takes his time. If he is consistent, then we will have an inside game. We have to match that with an outside presence and if we can get the two together, we have a chance.”
East Ascension hosted St. Michael to open the season before participating in Donaldsonville’s Tiger Classic. After playing Zachary in Denham Springs’Grady Hornsby Classic, the Spartans host Broadmoor before competing in St. Amant’s Gold Dome Classic.
Away games at Episcopal and Ponchatoula precede two district challenge games and a home date with Tara before the Spartan Classic the week after Christmas.
The pre-district slate wraps up at Redemptorist after road trips to Lutcher and E.D. White and a home date with Baker.
“Our schedule didn’t change much,” Almond said. “It is pretty much the same. We got off to a nice start last year and it would be nice to duplicate that success but it is tough enough. We don’t want to get embarrassed. I think there are a few games in there that we can win and grow up with.”
Parity in District 6-5A was never more evident then when five teams from the league were seeded within seven spots from each other last season.
“It was tough last year, so it could be tough again,” Almond said. “I really don’t know what to expect. It would be nice to make the playoffs again. Last year, that start obviously helped us. It wasn’t the district wins because we didn’t get very many. I certainly hope we have more this year.
“If he can establish the inside, I think we can get some outside shooting. The key will be how we mature and handle the close games.”
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Experienced Griffins have to be leaders in 09-10
GEISMAR – While Dutchtown may have surprised a few teams last year, don’t expect that to be the case this season.
The Griffins advanced to their second consecutive playoff appearance and third ever after placing fourth in district standings with 4-6 mark but fell to Carencro 59-47 in bi-district to finish 16-15 overall and still have never gotten out of the first round.
“Everyone’s expectations should be to play in the Cajun Dome but you have to make the playoffs first,” Dutchtown head coach Patrick Hill said. “We want to get our foot back in the door and see what happens after that.”
The Griffins lose first-team all-District 6-5A selection Earl Warren, honorable mention pick Eddie Lacy and role player Lyle Mock to graduation.
“We lost kids that had experience including our point guard who is basically the quarterback on your team,” Hill said. “You have to find somebody to take their place.”
However, the Griffins do return a wealth of experience in two-time first-team pick, senior Scott Burgess, who averaged 13.9 points and seven rebounds per game, along with starters Terrance Cushenberry and Jordon Biagas.
“They just have to step up and fill that void,” Hill said. “Inexperience is our weakness right now. We have experience on the floor but they don’t know what it takes to be stat leaders right now.”
Donovan McCall will take over the point for the Griffins and John Williams provides an inside presence. Dutchtown also hopes to get contributions from Devon Ester, Darian Harleaux and Jared Spriggs.
“We are not very quick and we don’t jump very high but we play together and we can score,” Hill said. “We want to run the floor and in doing that we want to make good decisions with the basketball. If it is not there, slow the tempo down and pull it out but we want to run the floor. That is what makes the game fun but only take what they give you.
“On defense, our philosophy has been man to man and hopefully we can do that a lot again this year but we will jump into zone from time to time.”
The Griffins opened the season playing in Donaldsonville’s Tiger Classic for the first time ever before facing Woodlawn in Denham Springs’ Grady Hornsby Classic.
After hosting McKinley, Dutchtown then will play in the Gold Dome Classic at St. Amant. Home games against Capitol and Broadmoor and a visit to Istrouma precedes the Spartan Classic at East Ascension.
The pre-district slate wraps up at Assumption and West Feliciana after a visit from Plaquemine.
“A lot of it is inherited and some of it is what we scheduled,” Hill said. “I think we can be competitive with this team. We have a shot to win those games but it is about getting better and gaining experience for district. I don’t think we are playing anyone better or as good as any team in our district and that has been the case in the past. However, with the new system similar to power ratings, you have to get your share of wins.”
Parity in District 6-5A was never more evident then last season when the first boys basketball pairings based on power rating were released and five teams from the league were seeded within seven spots from each other. Joining the Griffins in the post season were state runner-up Hahnville, quarterfinalist East Ascension, regionalist St. Amant and East St. John.
“We are right there just like everybody else,” Hill said. “I think the district has a lot of parity. No one is going to be head and shoulders above everybody right now but you never know when you get to that point. I think it is going to be a competitive district just like it was in the past.
“Staying together and learning how to take care of the basketball are the keys. Defending night end and night out.”
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Inexperienced Gators to rely on different brand of basketball
ST. AMANT – If you have become accustomed to St. Amant running the floor the past couple of years, expect a different philosophy this season.
“I think it is going to be an exciting year,” St. Amant head coach Gary Duhe said. “It is going to be a different brand of basketball then we played the last few years here and that is what we have to understand. We are real inexperienced. It is a transition year and we just have to keep working. Teaching the game and watching kids get better, that is what I enjoy about this group.”
The Gators placed third in District 6-5A standings a year ago with a 6-4 mark and defeated Hammond in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs before falling to top seed Huntington 91-70 in the regionals to finish with an overall record of 23-11.
However, the Gators must replace four starters including first-team all-district selections, overall MVP and first-team all-state pick Rashaun Claiborne, honorable mention all-state selection Brandon Morris and defensive MVP Bruce Mathison along with honorable mention all-district selection Nick Morris.
“You don’t replace them,” Duhe said. “You just have to figure out how to do different things. I am pleased with the group that we have. We are not extremely athletic but we are going to get there. We are going to be a very good basketball team in another month.”
The Gators lone returning starter is 6-8 senior center Steve Fulkerson. Jacob Gauthier is the only other player returning with varsity experience. Malik Beasley will man the point and Justin Manton, Jacky Joseph, Marlon Bourgeois, Dalton Alexander, Shane Laurent, Wendell Williams and Brandon LeBourgeois all figure in.
“Our strength is teamwork,” Duhe said. “That is what we are relying on. We don’t have one individual. Last year, we could beat you so many different ways. Off the dribble, with the pass, shooting the ball and pressure defense but we don’t have that this year. It is not crying over spilt milk. That is just the team we have.”
“We have to find our identity. Right now, we have a lot more weaknesses than strengths and the biggest is inexperience.”
St. Amant opened the season hosting Zachary before participating in Donaldsonville’s Tiger Classic. After playing Hammond in Denham Springs’ Hornsby Classic, the Gators hosted Walker before their tournament, the Gold Dome Classic.
A trip to Donaldsonville and Denham Springs sandwiches Scotlandville’s tournament before two district challenge games and the Hornets at home.
After the Spartan Classic at East Ascension the week after Christmas the pre-district slate wraps up at Lutcher following a home date with Redemptorist.
“It is basically the same schedule,” Duhe said. “It is tough which is good because with power rankings, every game is important. This is the most inexperienced team I have ever put on the floor. We have a lot of growing up to do. We have to shrink the game down into three minute intervals. Every game we play is going to have to come down to the last two minutes for us to have a chance.”
Parity in District 6-5A was evident last year when five teams were seeded within seven spots from each other.
“We were one of the two or three best teams in the league last year,” Duhe said. “We are not this year but that doesn’t mean we can’t finish there. We have to value every possession and understand that is the type of basketball we have to play.”
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