By JASON KING
North Pulaski’s week of practice leading up to next week’s Red Devil Classic can be summed up with one word — defense.
The Falcons are coming off a 1-2 showing in the Wampus Cat Invitational, are 2-5 overall and have come close in many of their losses. They traveled across town Friday to play local rival Jacksonville in the same gym where next week’s annual holiday tournament will be played.
“The guy who did our schedule put some tough ones on there; we’re going to have to have a talk with that guy,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said, referring to himself. “There’s some good and some bad in it. It’s good in that playing good teams exposes every weakness you have.
“When you’re winning, those weaknesses don’t show up as much, and they turn into bad habits. Every thing is pretty well exposed for us; now we’re in the process of trying to eliminate them.”
The Falcons returned from the Conway tourney and hit the practice court. But shooting and ball-handling drills were nowhere to be seen.
“We honed in on defense,” Cooper said. “We spent the whole week on defense. We didn’t even discuss offense until [Friday]. You win games by getting stops, and we have given up way too many easy baskets because we were out of position.
“There’s 20 things I could list off the top of my head, and we’ve gone down the list one by one trying to improve on them.”
The Christmas break includes another run of tournament games in which the aim is improvement. The Falcons will follow the Red Devil Classic with a tournament in Poplar Bluff, Mo., beginning on Dec. 27.
“It’s hard to get kids focused, especially during that time, but one thing they will show up for is games,” Cooper said. “We’ll play six games over the Christmas break, so hopefully we’ll have some growth. We’re very young, and the transition has been an adjustment for us.”
Senior forward Bryan Colson is the only returning starter from last year’s team, and only one of two players with significant playing time along with junior guard Shyheim Barron.
“That’s been the struggle,” Cooper said. “The other guys still don’t see the importance of attention to detail. It’s like all those little parts to a car. If your carburetor doesn’t work, and your radiator doesn’t work, it doesn’t even matter what kind of engine you have.”
Little Rock McClellan, another familiar opponent, awaits in the first round of the Red Devil Classic. The Falcons and Crimson Lions were conference rivals the past two seasons, with McClellan claiming the 5A-Southeast crown in 2009 and North Pulaski winning it the next year. The teams, though no longer in the same conference, have already split two games this season with North Pulaski winning 71-56 at home before falling in overtime in the rematch at McClellan.
“We’re getting to know each other pretty well,” Cooper said. “We’ve pretty well become rivals. It’s always a good test when we play them, but there are a lot of good teams with different styles in this tournament like Catholic and Little Rock Christian.
“We’re trying to get conference ready. Our record may look kind of rough now, but January starts a brand-new season.”