Friday, July 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> State champs stay busy

Leader sportswriter

The state champion Cabot boys’ basketball team hasn’t let up over the summer. The Panthers stayed busy last month, competing in double-digit exhibition games at team camps, and most recently took part in a Pulaski Academy team camp last week in Little Rock.

“We had a real busy June,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We went to the Hendrix team camp and played some good teams and learned a lot about us, and then the following week we went to Russellville for three days and had a good camp there, and I thought we really made good progress.”

Cabot graduated three players in May, all three of which were 6-foot-3 or taller, but the Panthers return five of their top seven players from a season ago. Those players have continued to develop over the summer, but Bridges has always used summer competition as a way to develop his entire roster.

“I’m going to platoon people,” Bridges said. “We’ll run 10 on varsity and 10 on JV, and everybody’s going to play. One thing we try to do in the summer, we want to continue to try and develop our players. That’s the main thing.

“I’ve never hung a banner for what we’ve done in the summer. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at accepting that – you’ve got to. And I saw some good things from everybody. I think our young ones are getting better, and that gives us a chance to learn about some that are going to be juniors. Are some of these ready to step up, because we really need them to be.”

Bridges said it does help the developmental process of the entire team not having to worry about what he’s going to get from his starters/heavy contributors from last year’s championship team.

“Five of our top seven from last year is back,” Bridges said. “I’m not worried about what Bobby Joe (Duncan) can do, Matt (Stanley) can do, Gilly (Logan Gilbertson) can do, Jarrod (Barnes) can do, Jalen (Brown) can do. I know they’re going to be there for me, and it’s been good to see.”

Bridges mentioned some inexperienced juniors to-be that are going to be looked at to step up and contribute when the 2016-17 season tips off in the fall.

“Jared Vance has got a little bit of a bad back, but he’s getting better,” Bridges said. “I feel like he’s going to be able to help us out and he shoots the ball extremely well. I think Christian Weir is going to play more. He’ll be able to help us more.

“He’ll be able to give Bobby a little more (rest) time, but I feel like I can play them together some, too, because Christian’s real strong off the dribble and can D-up. Noah Allgood, he’s been a pleasant surprise. We need Noah to continue to improve to give us more depth (at forward) behind Gilly and Matt.

“It’s good to see Noah getting better because you’ve got to have an extra guy inside, because it can be physical sometimes when you get in foul trouble. Parker Childress is another guy. He’s a senior. I know he’s not real big, but he can shoot it deep and I really feel like he’s going to be able to help us some.

“It’s a different team. I know we’ve got a lot of the top seven back, but (graduates) Hunter Southerland and Garrett Rowe, they gave us so much stuff you don’t see in the scorebook, and Chandler Casteel did a great job coming off the bench. Those are three big bodies and players and great kids that we’ve got to replace. So hopefully we’ll be ready.”

One thing the Panthers have learned this summer is that being the champion means they’re going to get other teams’ best shot.

“Our guys need to understand, and I think they saw some of that as the summer went on, you’re going to get some people’s best shot,” Bridges said, “because everybody wants to say, ‘Hey, we beat the champions.’ We’ve never defended anything before, so you better be ready.”

Bridges wasn’t at last week’s team camp at Pulaski Academy. Two days before that camp, on the morning of July 11, Bridges’ father, Jack, passed away at 86 years young. Jack Bridges coached for 34 years, was an athletic director after his coaching days, and in retirement, spent a lot of time watching his children and grandchildren play and coach.

Jack Bridges was a regular on the front row of Panther basketball games, and the last game he saw his son Jerry coach was when the Panthers beat Bentonville in the Class 7A state championship game in their hometown of Hot Springs in March.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” Bridges said of his father, “and that’s the honest truth. He gave me so much knowledge, and basketball, and the foundation of my beliefs. It’s why I’ve done what I’ve done. I promise you that. We’ll miss him over there in that section of his.”

Cabot assistant coach Nathan Brown coached the team at the PA camp on July 13. Cabot beat Mountain Home and PA at the team camps, but Bridges was told the team really showed improvement in the second half of their exhibition game against the host Bruins.

“We really got better, they told me, against PA,” Bridges said. “We didn’t look good the first half. We were down like two at half, just 13-11 for instance, and it’s like we ended up beating them 45-28.”

The Panthers are currently going through their weekly practice routine, working mostly on ball-handling and shooting. Bridges said practice sessions will have more focus on defense and conditioning once school starts next month.

It’s been a busy and trying summer for the head Panther. Bridges dedicated a lot of his time toward the end of June coaching the East All-Star team, and with the recent loss of his father, the CHS head coach hasn’t been with his team as much as he would like, but said he’s pleased with the progress the team has made over the last couple of months.

“I’m very pleased,” Bridges said. “It’s like I told coach Brown, part of me feels like we’re not ready because I haven’t been around with me coaching All-Stars, the two dead weeks and then my father, I haven’t seen them in a month. I saw them (Tuesday), and I miss them.

“They’ve been doing stuff and I’m fortunate I got coach Brown. He does a great job for me and I know they’re in good hands with him. Part of me says since I haven’t been here I don’t think we’ve been doing anything, but they have been, and I’m glad to be back and getting in that routine.

“We’re going Monday through Thursday now. We just want to keep getting better. Some of them got vacations planned, and my policy is, when you’re in Cabot I expect you to be at practice. If you have a family vacation, family time’s important. You go do that, and they’ve been good about being there (at practice). I’m fortunate.”