Changes in style, new faces and a brand names reestablishing their dominance sum up the summer league basketball scene in Northeast Louisiana the past month.
With most pieces back from a state championship appearance a season ago, Wossman has picked up right where its left off, while Ouachita continues to meet the large expectations set long ago.
Here is a recap of parish teams competing in summer league:
West Monroe basketball coach Kyle Hill is stressing consistency this summer.
“We were inexperienced last year, so we had some ups and downs,” Hill said. “We just need to be more consistent in the things we do.”
With four starters back from last year’s 17-16 outfit, the Rebels will field a veteran squad this time around.
Regrouping from a customary slow start, the Rebels won 10 of their final 14 games, including a 72-68 first round road playoff victory over Covington.
“We have a lot of guys who play football, which is fine. We want them to be successful in everything they do, but it makes it hard when you go deep in the playoffs every year to get everybody on the same page,” Hill said. “By the time we get to February, I feel like we have a chance to be pretty good.”
A trio of seniors, center Dontrell Cobbs and guards Jerry Day and Jalen White, return along with junior guard Javion Richard.
Although guard Brandon Jackson is the lone missing starter, Hill says all five positions are up for grabs.
“We’re in a situation where all of our spots are open every year,” Hill said. “We have had guys start one year and be a role player the next year. You never know which one is going to grow up and who is going to get better.”
Ouachita began the process of replacing four key members of its rotation from last year’s Class 5A state semifinalist basketball squad with a 6-0 run through the Neville Team Camp.
Starters Paul King, Myron Washington and Cadarrious Jackson, along with key reserve Elijah Hill leave voids to fill after helping the Lions to a 32-6 mark and a No. 2 seed in the state playoff bracket.
“We are going to be young. We have a couple of incoming freshmen, a couple of sophomores and one junior who could help us, but they have no real varsity experience,” fourth-year coach Jeremy Madison said. “We have some young guys playing with energy and playing hard. The key for us this summer is the development of those players.”
Joining the likes of West Monroe and Ouachita will be none other than West Ouachita this season.
The jump to 5A could be problematic in the fall and winter with football and boys basketball coming off of losing season. But like football head coach Matt Middleton, basketball head coach Daniel Dalleo welcomes the challenge, coming off of a 13-19 season.
“I hate to sound cliché but you do want to challenge yourselves against the best, and we’re going to do everything we can to make the playoffs,” Dalleo said.
The Chiefs finished last season shy of a playoff berth but return a wealth of experience. A couple of second-team all-district performers, Dakota Gasca and Reid Gurlando, return and helped Dalleo make the decision to change the Chiefs’ playing style this season.
“The first year we went up-tempo and last year we slowed it down,” Dalleo said. “We’re looking to find a happy medium this year. (The players) definitely want to get up and down, and I have some kids that are pretty solid at running the court like Reid and Dakota. Caleb Williams is good at it also.”
West Ouachita will have four retuning starters with Cole Moore joining the three aforementioned Chiefs.
Looking to build on a strong ending to the 2018-19 hoops campaign, Neville has heightened expectations for the season ahead.
Regrouping from a 4-12 start, the Tigers closed out the regular season on a 9-1 tear to reach the .500 level and earn a share of the District 2-4A title. Seeded No. 22 in the playoff bracket, Neville upset No. 11 A.J. Ellender 72-68 in the first round.
Four freshmen helped trigger the late-season turn-around as the Tigers finished 17-17.
“We started four freshmen at one point,” said Vincent Burks, Neville’s summer coach who assists Phillip Craig during the regular season. “They brought a lot of intensity and gave us the jolt of energy we needed.”
Though the season ended on a downer with a 62-57 second round loss to No. 6 Westgate, the foundation had been set.
“That was a game we could have won with four freshmen on the floor,” Burks said. “The future is bright. We are looking forward to this group.”
Among the Tigers’ departures were swingman Trey Steele (11.3 points per game, 7.6 rebounds) and guards Tavis Butler (12.4 ppg) and Jeremy Harrison (4.2 ppg).
Patrick McCraney (15.8 ppg, 2 steals), the team’s leading scorer, and A.J. Allen (4.3, 3.5 rpg), 6-7 post player Will Campbell (2.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Ethan Hall (2.6 ppg, 1.9 assists) return as seasoned sophomores.
Short-handed and inexperienced, Sterlington’s struggles in the Neville Team Camp were predictable.
With senior Michael Givens as the only full-time starter from last year’s 22-12 team participating in the camp, the Panthers went 1-6. Other than Givens, Malachi Broadway was the only other senior to suit up. Both took turns running the offense.
“It’s good for them to get some experience handling the ball,” coach Cory Emerson said. “We are looking for Malachi to step into a starting role.”
Following the graduation of second-team All-District 2-3A point guard Kaden Key and shooting guard Reid Handy, All-State senior guard Kyle Henderson is projected to return to the point this season.
“More than likely, when the season rolls around, Kyle will go back to 1 and Malachi back to 3,” Emerson said.
A trio of sophomores seized the opportunity to make an impression in camp. La’Davion Hicks and Luke Handy, Reid’s brother, were solid in the backcourt, and Peyton Parks-Smith showed promise while filling in for senior Chance Carter.
Wossman doesn’t rebuild. It reloads.
With only three players exiting from last year’s state championship runner-up squad, the Wildcats have the combination of talent, experience and depth. And it’s showed this summer.
“We have 17 guys suited up,” said Wossman head coach Casey Jones, who couldn’t find enough seats on the bench at West Monroe High School last Tuesday. “We have good chemistry among the guys that played last year, so I’m trying to incorporate some kids that played junior varsity to see who can help us in varsity this year.”
Wossman went unscathed for most of summer league and suffered only one loss to Bossier at Northwestern State’s camp. But more importantly than the results of summer league ball, the Wildcats got their first look at who would be running point next season with Rayson Robinson graduating. The answer was plural.
“We’ve had Jay Jones, Brandon Dennis and Devonte Austin play it a little bit,” Jones said.
All three Wildcats gained experience last year, while the reigning 2019 Ouachita Citizen Player of the Year Nick Traylor will look to hold it down inside for the Wildcats.
As a new season awaits, nothing has changed for Wossman. The Wildcats remain one of the favorites in Class 3A.
Jessie Burnette walked into the gym Friday afternoon (May 31) at the Neville Team Camp tournament clad in blue and gold. It seemed more than a little odd that he was there as a spectator.
Burnette announced his retirement last spring after a 45-year coaching career, which included three state championships over the past decade at Carroll. (He won his first state title at the now-closed Delta High School in Mer Rouge).
Interim coach Jarvis Brown, who has applied for the permanent position as Burnette’s successor, is guiding the Bulldogs through the summer.
Senior Craytonio Simmons, a first-team All-District 2-3A performer, 6-6 forwards Randarrius Jones and Deonte Edwards, point guard Ricky Johnson and sophomore shooting guard Lazarus Burks figure to be among the key components as the Bulldogs seek to improve upon last year’s 19-15 record and second round playoff appearance.
Brown has enlisted the services of several football players in an effort to create depth.
“We have five or six guys from the football team who are going to join us,” Brown said. “Most of those guys are seniors who haven’t played high school basketball.”