Saturday, November 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Boasting bushel of basketballers

Leader sports editor Todd Traub

It was a quiet first day of the early basketball signing period for area schools.

But it could just be the calm before the storm.

Searcy’s Jamal Jones signed with Ole Miss on Wednesday, but other than that, local schools had few players sign NCAA Division I letters of intent. That doesn’t mean, however, th
at central Arkansas is lacking talent.
In fact, the local area may be one of richest for competitive boys high school basketball in Arkansas.

“There are a lot of good players in this area,” said North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper while watching several of those players at last Saturday’s jamboree at Jacksonville. “A couple are really high D-I players in this tournament. It’s going to be a good year for basketball in this area.”

Cooper said the level of competitiveness was evident in North Pulaski’s jamboree matchup with Jacksonville, which had the feel of a regular season game.

“We have these teams who are normally from the area and the kids know each other,” Cooper said. “They have an understanding, so they come out, even in a jamboree; I’m looking at the intensity of the jamboree and its’ really high at the beginning of the year.”

After last season Cooper sent his son Aaron off to Missouri State and he figures senior forward and team mainstay Bryan Colson is going to “play somewhere” after high school. Sophomore Dayshawn Watkins has already turned in a strong showing at Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey’s camp.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner had seven players from his 2009 6A state championship team go on to play college basketball at some level and returning senior Raheem Appleby stands a chance to do the same.

Cabot’s Adam Sterrenberg is entering his sophomore season at Arkansas State, and then there is Archie Goodwin, the Sylvan Hills standout rated by some recruiting gurus as one of the top three guards in the state.

“The coaches have come in and have said this is a hotbed,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. 

“Memphis has come in and said ‘We have got to recruit this Little Rock area, this is some great basketball.’ Memphis coming over and saying that, that speaks well for us. Goodwin has been contacted by a dream lineup of basketball powerhouses that includes North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky.

Goodwin, who averaged 22 points a game last season and scored 22 in four quarters of action at the jamboree — after flying in that morning from a visit to Kentucky — will not only sign with a marquee school next year, he is helping Sylvan Hills elevate its program profile.

“I was telling Archie’s parents that same thing,” Davis said. “It’s a great place. I wouldn’t have him anywhere else and for parents and kids to come in and see that, that’s big.”

Then there are the conferences.

Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski, the state runner up in 2009 and a state semifinalist last year, battle in the 5A-Southeast, which also includes Little Rock’s Mills University Studies, the 2004 state champion.

Last year the conference lineup included 5A state champion Little Rock McClellan, which split the season series with North Pulaski in a season-long duel for No. 1 in the state rankings on its way to the final in Hot Springs. McClellan was reclassified into the 7A/6A-South this season.

“We’re in a tough conference,” Davis said. “Basketball is a funny game. You’ve got to come out and execute and play every night.

“Arkansas has some phenomenal coaches.  I know some of these guys. I know what they do and we should be proud of who we coach against.”

Jacksonville and Searcy play in the 7A/6A-East, along with metro area teams and perennial state championship contenders Little Rock Hall, which it beat in the 2009 state final, and Little Rock Parkview. Hall won the championship last year and in 2008 while Parkview took the most recent of its many state titles in 2006.

In the past five years, in fact, teams from the three local, large-school conferences have produced seven state champions.

With that in mind, Joyner said the Red Devils wouldn’t be able to take a night off in conference play.

“We’re still in a rebuilding mode,” Joyner said. “Hall lost one, Searcy, those guys have been starting since their 10th-grade year. All of them are there. West Memphis, got all of them kids there. Marion, combined with Turrell, got three Division I’s; all them guys are there. Mountain Home — everybody back.

“Now, the league will turn over next year then we’ll be a little more strong. But right now everybody in the conference but us is at their zenith right now so we’ve got a serious, serious uphill battle.”