Friday, March 25, 2011

SPORTS>>Polished Appleby boosts Red Devils

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville boys basketball coach Vic Joyner had to interrupt his spring break to talk a little shop Friday.

But when the subject is senior guard Raheem Appleby, it is more vacation than work.

Appleby is The Leader Boys Player of the Year after averaging 19.7 points a game and leading Jacksonville to its second state championship game in three seasons.

“We knew he had it in him as a sophomore,” Joyner said, recalling Appleby’s smaller role in the Red Devils’ 2008-09 season that ended with a 6A state final victory over Little Rock Hall. “We were just trying to get him to come out of his shell and let it go. It was just prime time for him.

“He was a senior and there wasn’t anybody to take a backseat to. He took the reins and went for it. He always had that potential to do what he did this year.”

Appleby injured his ankle during the state tournament — after a grueling run to the 6A-East Conference championship — and though slowed somewhat he still managed to score a game-high 19 points, though conference rival and 6A-East co-champion Little Rock Parkview scratched out the 50-44 victory.

It was the last in a series of gutsy performances by Appleby, who fought through illness, a compressed schedule brought on by weather postponements and opposing defenses configured to stop him.

“A team is running defenses to stop you,” Joyner said. “And to still come out and put up big numbers and then make it to the state tournament, twists his ankle and guts it out and walks around with a boot for four, five days and to still play in a state championship and end up with 19 points, that says a lot about the kid right there.”

Before the season, the 6A-East was being touted as the toughest conference in the state, then the league proved it by sending four teams to the 6A semifinals. Additionally, 6A-East members West Memphis and Hall moved to the 7A tournament for the postseason as part of the Arkansas Activities Association’s last reclassification and reached the 7A final.

So night in and night out, including a stretch in which Jacksonville twice played three games in a week because of the postponements, Appleby was going up against the state’s toughest teams.

“I mean you take a team like we had in that conference, as tough as it was,” Joyner said. “And to come out and put up the numbers every night that he put, and especially toward the end of the season — we had those two weeks with three games in a week.

“Just the energy, and of course you’ve got to have to do that and your class work and do the things that you do, and it takes tremendous will and intestinal fortitude to stay focused like that.”

Jacksonville had a deep roster in which each player brought a little something different to the court. As skilled as he was with the ball, Appleby also had no problem involving the post players and the perimeter shooters in the offense.

“Raheem is one of those quiet leaders,” Joyner said. “You have certain kids that are vocal and always out there loud, and Raheem, he’s a soft-spoken kid and he led by example. Usually when he said something, those guys listened to him.”

Appleby’s leadership was most visible in practice, Joyner said. Unlike other seniors of the past, whose roles are assured and who tend to take it easy in workouts, Appleby continued to go full bore.

“I’ve been coaching 20-something years,” Joyner said. “When seniors get senioritis they kind of burn out on everything. Raheem never got that. He came to practice every day and practiced harder than anybody out there.”

Appleby, who added 2.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists to his nightly averages, now turns his attention to his studies to get the grade-point average he needs to be eligible for the NCAA Division I offers that may come his way.

If not, Appleby, 6-2, who has drawn interest from UALR, which reached the NCAA Tournament this year, and Missouri State, will go the junior-college route to get the grades he needs before transferring to a bigger program.

“I think I can play with all of them,” Appleby said of the college talent. “I don’t know. I just play. I’m not worried about it.”