Young Spartans hope to blend inside, outside game

Peter Silas Pasqua
East Ascension’s Keith Fleming is the Spartans’ lone returning starter from a team that advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals a year ago.

For the second year in a row, East Ascension loses four starters off a team that advanced as far as the Class 5A quarterfinals.

The Spartans blistered out to a 23-2 mark in non-district play before being hindered in 6-5A action placing fifth overall with a 3-7 mark last season.

However, East Ascension still made a presence in the playoffs defeating Brother Martin and upsetting St. Thomas More in the first two rounds before falling to district foe and state runner-up Hahnville 63-46 in the quarterfinals, a year removed from their first Top 28 appearance in 20 years.

“We lost four starters two years in a row,” East Ascension head coach Kenny Almond said.  “Last year, the guys that stepped in were seniors. This year, the guys that are stepping in are sophomores and juniors. Not only do they not have varsity experience but they are even younger players. That is going to be tough. Last year, they were ready because they were older. Things are going to come up in games that we haven’t seen. We have a long way to go.”

Gone is first-team all-district pick Quinn Coco, along with honorable mention selections Gary Weber and Ferrell?Strode and key contributors Kenny Varnado, Corey Lane and Kerry Weber.

“We are very, very young,” Almond said. “We really don’t have a set lineup, yet. We do have a little depth but we are counting on freshmen, so I am anxious to see how we are going to react.”

The Spartans’ lone returning starter is senior center Keith Fleming. Sharp shooter Tyler Wright,?Curtis Watts and Bobby Madere join freshmen point guard Donald LeBlanc in the starting rotation and DeAndre Smith, Devonte Fisher, Kadarius Williams, John Paul Williams and Willie Williams provide depth.

“A lot of things revolve around Keith,” Almond said. “When he doesn’t play too fast for his own good, he is very effective. He is pretty tough when he takes his time. If he is consistent, then we will have an inside game. We have to match that with an outside presence and if we can get the two together, we have a chance.”

East Ascension hosted St.?Michael to open the season before participating in Donaldsonville’s Tiger Classic. After playing Zachary in Denham?Springs’Grady Hornsby Classic, the Spartans host Broadmoor before competing in St. Amant’s Gold Dome Classic.

Away games at Episcopal and Ponchatoula precede two district challenge games and a home date with Tara before the Spartan Classic the week after Christmas.

The pre-district slate wraps up at Redemptorist after road trips to Lutcher and E.D. White and a home date with Baker.

“Our schedule didn’t change much,” Almond said. “It is pretty much the same. We got off to a nice start last year and it would be nice to duplicate that success but it is tough enough. We don’t want to get embarrassed. I think there are a few games in there that we can win and grow up with.”

Parity in District 6-5A was never more evident then when five teams from the league were seeded within seven spots from each other last season.

“It was tough last year, so it could be tough again,” Almond said. “I really don’t know what to expect. It would be nice to make the playoffs again. Last year, that start obviously helped us. It wasn’t the district wins because we didn’t get very many. I certainly hope we have more this year.

“If he can establish the inside, I think we can get some outside shooting. The key will be how we mature and handle the close games.”

For more photos click http://weeklycitizen.mycapture.com/mycapture/folder.asp?event=895254&CategoryID=52934&ListSubAlbums=0