Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ready to roar: A look at the Ouachita Lions basketball team

Antonio Landers is one of the few remaining
contributors from last year’s title-winning team
By Keith Prince • kprince@thenewsstar.com

Ouachita coach Casey Jones has never been one to rest on laurels — even though he has plenty upon which he could rest — and the Lions are jumping right back into the fray despite losing most of their headliners from last year’s state championship team.

Jones says fans should know that his young Lions won’t go 39-4 again this year, but he definitely isn’t giving up on putting up a gallant fight to defend their 5A state title.

Ouachita actually knows nothing but success under Jones, who has led the Lions to district championships in all eight of his seasons as the head coach and was also an assistant coach for five other district crowns.

How well can the Lions do after losing so much talent across the roster? The departed include MVP Nick Haywood (now at the University of Houston), high-jumping Jeremie Mitchell (McNeese), 6-4 post Mike Shaw and speedy guard Henry Sidney (both now at Wood Junior College in Illinois).

Ouachita is off and running at 8-3 going into tonight’s home game against Richwood and Jones says his kids “are beginning to understand how to play at the high level we need.”

Talented Antonio Landers is the one returning headliner from last year and the 6-2 guard is “accepting the leadership role we need from him” while averaging 21.9 points and 10.9 rebounds.

“Last year Antonio could just go play but now he is in a different, more vocal role. He knows I expect and need more from him and he’s playing well,” Jones said.

Forward Ryan Gix, a 6-3 sophomore, is contributing 10.7 points and leads in rebounds at 12.6. “He has the most experience of our kids other than Antonio and he is developing quickly into a leader, too.”

Second forward Sam Williams, also a 6-3 sophomore, “is probably our most gifted player. He’s still raw but he has the most tools with his quickness, ball handling skills and offensive potential. He needs to get stronger and tougher around the basket to become the complete player that he can be,” Jones said.

Joining Landers in the other two guard slots are 5-11 junior Cedric Treadway and 5-11 junior Dee Leonard, who transferred over from Wossman this year.

Treadway played very little varsity ball last year but is an outstanding shooter. “He just needs to understand that he must defend to stay on the floor, and I can see improvement in that area, so I look for him to have a solid season.”

Leonard “has great quickness and court vision. He’s a tremendous passer but is having to change his mentality from shooter to floor general. I still want him to be aggressive with the ball but his first priority is getting everybody else involved in the offense.”

Jones is also expecting big things from his sixth man, 6-2 junior Malik Richard.

“I call him my do-everything-guy because he is capable of coming in at guard or forward and making an impact. He can be an enforcer for us and I like being able to bring his firepower off the bench,” Jones said. “I really like this group. Our schedule is very tough and our district will be very competitive.”

“But as our chemistry develops and everybody learns their roles, we can become a very good team. It will be interesting to see this group grow and mature.”

Courtesy of the News Star

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