BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON It’s not surprising that the tradition-rich Jonesboro boys’ basketball program is rolling this season, but it is coming via a different style.
The Hurricane (12-2), fresh off winning two of three games at the King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff, will open Class 6A Central conference action Tuesday night at Cabot (12-3).
“You probably watched some scores and we are defending pretty well, but not scoring it very well,” Jonesboro head coach Wes Swift said. “I would have to say our success is based on the defensive end right now. We are struggling offensively.”
That’s not surprising considering the talent and experience lost off last year’s 28-3 team, which beat Marion 53-28 last season’s Class 5A title game to claim back-to-back titles and a 17th overall.
“We were really deep last season and had three go on to play college basketball and two to play college football,” Swift said. “Our junior class was really good, but they had a different role now. They got to kind of play Robin to Batman, but this year they are Batman.
“That’s been a little bit of what, I wouldn’t say struggle, but we just needed them to lead a little better and they are getting better at it day in and day out with that.”
An influx of sophomores is in the mix as well.
“And then we have some guys who have played nothing but JV or come up from junior high and are playing minutes off the bench,” Swift said. “They are still lagging behind a little bit behind, focus on defense or just confidence on the opposite end.
“The good thing with all of that is I don’t think we are anywhere near our ceiling or our peak and still finding ways to win. We are hoping that later in January or February, we will start meshing with that and I think when we do that you will start seeing us score in the 60s instead of in the 50s as we are right now.”
Swift’s team now moves into conference action in a league that also had Little Rock Central, Bryant and North Little Rock.
“We start off at Cabot, which is a team that really struggled last year, but returns everybody and (head coach) Logan (Bailey) has got them playing well,” Swift said. “They are 12-3 and we watched their game with Bentonville West and we know they were up on West a large part of that game. West did a good job of gaining composure and coming back and beating them and we know how good West is.
“We are on the road for that one and then Friday we get Bryant at home on Friday. I saw some rankings came out and Bryant was not even mentioned, but I sit there and watched them beat a very good Fayetteville team a few weeks ago at Conway. They are really young, but they are really talented.”
Jonesboro lost to North Little Rock 57-53 back on Nov. 25, but reeled off eight wins after that defeat.
The Hurricane beat Covington (GA) Newton 50-40 to open its King Cotton Classic action, lost 41-38 to eventual champion Beaumont (Texas) United in the second round and downed Powder Springs (GA) McEachern 49-36.
The Beaumont game, I just felt like we gave it away,” Swift said. “We are up four points with 1:02 to go and we have the ball. Our point guard is on the bench with four fouls and we had subbed out for offense-defense,” Swift said. “We were trying to get it in the front court and we were going to call timeout and then were planning on being up at least six.
“But we turned it over before we got it across half court and called timeout. That’s bad coaching on my part and I should have called it earlier.
Beaumont star Wesley Yates assisted on a 3-pointer that gave his team the lead with 12 seconds left, but Jonesboro still had a chance to win.
“Our best player and point guard Deon Buford-Wesley, we got him on a back door at the rim and he got hit and we didn’t get the call,” Swift said. “They kicked it down and got a dunk, but we thought we should have been shooting free throws. If we make them, there still would have been about seven seconds left and with their guards we still would havre had a another defensive possession.
“But long story short, we gave ourselves a chance to win on a night when we shot about 23 perfect from the floor and we got two other good wins down there so we were happy with it.”
Swift believes his team will have a tough road to get through both conference play and the state tournament.
“It is a really good conference as you know,” Swift said. “The West is really good as well. It is going to make for a really good state tournament. “I think I have mentioned it to several people that if you come to our state tournament, you are going to possibly see first-round games between two top 10 team teams.
“And then the the quarterfinal games are going to be as good as you can get. We’ll just keep pushing and getting better and hopefully put ourselves in position to do it again.”