By Jason king
This year, the Red Devil Classic basketball tournament will have a full bracket on the boys side. After two years of featuring only Jacksonville and Little Rock Catholic, six teams will take part.
The host Red Devils, fresh off their tournament victory in Conway’s Wampus Cat Invitational last weekend, will face Brinkley in the first round Monday night.
The tournament has been moved up one week. In prior years it has been held the week after Christmas but will be played Monday through Wednesday this year.
Red Devils coach Victor Joyner said he is happy to see a full bracket once again, but his feelings were not hurt in the old system when Jacksonville played Catholic two consecutive days.
“It was wonderful,” Joyner said. “We got to play a quality team twice in a row. It wasn’t a complete vacation, but it felt like one. But that’s why we moved it up earlier, to get more teams, and everybody gets three games.”
This year’s tournament features Jacksonville, Catholic, Little Rock Christian, Little Rock McClellan, North Pulaski and Brinkley.
Joyner said the tough competition in the Wampus Cat Invitational and the upcoming Red Devil Classic will be a benefit for Jacksonville once it starts play in the 6A-East Conference.
“That’s the whole purpose,” Joyner said. “Everyone knows how tough our conference is — it’s tough every single night. Every night, it’s a playoff atmosphere. We can’t play enough quality teams before conference starts up.”
The Red Devil Classic was one of the few holiday tournaments in the area until recent years. But other tournaments began to emerge to sap potential participants in the classic, something that also happened to Joyner when he coached across town at North Pulaski.
“A couple of teams bowed out because a lot of new tournaments popped up,” Joyner said. “Some of the schools that were coming to our tournaments found someplace a little bit closer. That’s kind of what happened when I started putting on tournaments over at North Pulaski.
“No one was doing them at that time, then, all of a sudden, teams were doing tournaments at that same time, and it became a struggle to find teams.”
The Red Devils were 7-0 entering Friday’s non-conference game with North Pulaski. It was to be Jacksonville’s last before opening tournament play Monday.
“They’ve been playing hard and practicing hard since Labor Day,” Joyner said of his players. “They just work hard. We had a bunch of guys come back who had some playing time last year. Not everyone, but we had a big majority of our core back.
“They needed some more experience, and a lot of them got it over the summer playing AAU.”
Joyner credits the team’s even-keeled attitude for much of the early success.
“They are one of the easiest teams to coach I’ve had,” Joyner said. “They’re just quiet guys. Like Raheem Appleby, he’s their leader, and he’s a quiet guy, and the rest are kind of like that too.
“You tell them something once or twice, and they’re going to do it the way you want it done.”