Back to the hardwood

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
East Ascension will be led by four-year starter at point guard, Jimel London. Photo by Tammy Gaudin.

With the coming of November, there are many that are getting their bodies ready to endure three and four helpings of turkey.

Others are already putting up their Christmas lights and trees and preparing for the brutality of Black Friday.

Meanwhile, high-school basketball teams are just tipping off their seasons. All of the squads are hoping to continue the success of 2016-17.

Last year was a good one for the boy’s teams. Three of the six Ascension schools reached the second round of the playoffs.

Obviously, East Ascension will head into the season as the team to beat in the parish.

The Spartans are coming off of a tremendous year that saw them go a perfect 10-0 in district play and win their first league championship under head coach Barry Whittington, Jr.

Whittington has continued to do a remarkable job with the program.

He took over when much of East Ascension’s roster was lost to graduation. The Spartans were forced to rebuild and throw many freshmen and sophomores into the fire.

They took their lumps early in his first season, but they ended the year on a hot streak. That momentum carried over to the next season, when they reached the state semifinals.

In 2016-17, they matched that success during the regular season as they went 26-6 and won the district title, but they fell short in meeting their expectations during the postseason.

The top-seeded Spartans were upset in the second round.

This year, things will be a little different for East Ascension. They lost a lot of key players from last season’s team—including two-time leading scorer and two-time Parish MVP Le’Aaron Cain.

Others that will leave include big man Justin Harris and their best outside shooter, Cole Hatcher.

The good thing for East Ascension is that they return three senior starters.

Point guard Jimel London is a four-year starter and one of the most quick and explosive standouts in the area.

What makes London such a great player is his ability to play both ends of the court. Sure, he can score and distribute, but he is a terrific defender.

He has to be. Coach Whittington demands excellence in that aspect. He loves for his teams to create turnovers, and then get easy buckets on the other end.

East Ascension also returns shooting guard Shedrick Smith and big Cameron Wire down low. Wire, an LSU commit in football, was first-team all-district last season.

Dutchtown proved they could win last year. Now, they want to take the next step and challenge East Ascension for the district title.

After two straight losing seasons, the Griffins turned things around in 2016-17 and won 17 games. They reached the playoffs for the first time in three years.

They could be even better this season with most of their roster returning.

Starters Nic Caldwell, Jordan Jackson and Gary Smith all come back, and big man Briant Parker should also be a force inside for them.

When I talked to head coach Patrick Hill a while back about the team, he said that they could have a great season, but it all comes down to their mentality.

He said their “body language” when things go bad is important. They must be able to respond when they’re faced with adversity better than they did last season.

St. Amant has a lot to replace.

They won’t have a two-time all-district forward down low for them anymore. Kameron Kelson has graduated.

The Gators were also dealt some bad luck when projected starter at forward, Destin Barker was injured in their first practice.

At guard, St. Amant lost Travis Cole and Terique Daley.

So, the Gators will rely heavily on the three guards they do return: K.J. Franklin, Jimmie Pittman and Jahnoi Daley. Franklin, now a junior, has been a starter since he was a freshman.

Coach Uzee has raved about Franklin, Pittman and Daley for not just their ability on the court, but what they do off of it. He said that all three are excellent students and tremendous leaders for his team.

Uzee is also expecting Jerome Turner to be a key player for them as a guard/forward.

It should be another great basketball season in Ascension Parish.

East Ascension has dominated their parish counterparts the past two years. It will be interesting to see if there is a shift in power in 2017-18.