By T. Scott Boatright
After winning three Louisiana Class B state championships over the past three years, the Simsboro Tigers realize they have become the hunted while still hunting for their second back-to-back titles over the past four years.
Simsboro took state in 2018 and 2019, was runner-up in 2020 and then topped Anacoco 56-53 in the 2021 state championship showdown.
“We tell our guys all the time that we’re going to get everyone’s best efforts simply because we have won three championships over the past four years,” said Simsboro boys head coach Josh Brown. “Anytime a team gets a chance to play Simsboro, they’re going to be up for the game and are going to bring their ‘A’ game.
“It’s our job to match that mentality and intensity so that we don’t come out flat and let a game get away from us.”
The Tigers no longer seem to rebuild. Instead they reload by tradition, using experienced younger players to fill the holes left by graduated former seniors.
“First of all they’re really good kids, and second of all, they’re really good basketball players,” Brown said. “We do have a lot of talent. We’ve been blessed in that way. The younger guys had to practice every day against those talented graduates who have moved on. There’s no better way to prepare than to practice against a state championship team every day. I think you’re going to see that again this year with Shamarian Brantley, Kalep Wright and Lee Abney going from second string to moving into starting positions.”
Taking over as team leaders will be seniors Nick Maryland and Jordan Crawford. It was Maryland who nailed a 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds remaining last spring to give the Tigers the Class B title.
“They’re back and will be our leaders this season,” Brown said.
Brown said Simsboro’s winning ways begin on the junior high level.
“When I took over this program seven years ago, I went ahead and decided I was going to coach the junior high team as well,” he said. “Our varsity staff is the same as the junior high staff. So I tell people there’s no excuse for the program not being built, because we’re coaching the junior high, too.
“My varsity players come in during junior high practice to help the younger guys learn, because we play a little different style than many teams. We like to be physical and up-tempo. When they play that same system in junior high, when they move up to junior varsity and then varsity, they already have three or four years in the system under their belts.”
Simsboro played a hefty summer league schedule before officially starting practice when the school year started.
“We’ve had a good couple of months. We played a lot of games this summer against 4A and 5A teams, and our guys were competitive and won most of them,” Brown said. “We played a real physical brand of basketball this summer competing with the Ouachitas and the Wossmans and the Carrolls. I was really proud of the progress we made this summer.
“I think it really got us off to the start we needed and that carried over to the start of practice in September. The guys have been working really hard in the weight room and on the practice floor. But we are ready to play somebody for real.”
The Tigers did just that Monday night, rolling to a 100-48 home win over Atlanta in their season opener.
Simsboro led only 22-12 at the end of the first quarter before stretching that advantage to 54-24 at the half and never looking back.
Maryland led the Tigers with 20 points while Brantley added 18, Crawford chipped in with 13, and Abney and Wright scored nine each.
Unlike the Tigers, who simply seem to reload automatically year-by-year, Lady Tigers head coach Adrian Hester is looking to fill the void left by last year’s senior workhorses Alexia Hester and Tatiayana Jones after the pair graduated in May.
Hester returns two starters in junior Ikeia Brown and Jahkeria Abney, who was an eighth-grader last year and is going into her freshman year as a returning starter.
A newcomer Hester is counting on big things from is junior Imani Dean, a transfer who played last year for Lincoln Preparatory School.
“She sat out last year or she would have been a starter then,” Hester said. “We’re going to be young. Imani and Ikeia are the only two juniors I have and are going to be the leading force for us. We’re banking on Imani taking care of the post under the basketball and Ikeia to be our speed demon point guard on the outside.”
Hester feels that his mix of top players might give him more versatility than last season, when the Lady Tigers reached the opening round of the Class B playoffs before falling to Castor 60-35.
“We’re a little more confident than we were last year because Imani is a true center, so her role of dominating inside kind of replaces Alexia’s role as a shooter who had more of an outside presence,” said Hester.
He said he hopes a tough preseason slate will help his squad by the time district play roles around in January.
“We scheduled up in preseason,” Hester said. “We played three-time state champion Hicks. We played Farmerville. The thought process is that playing upper talent in preseason will prepare us by the time we get in district play. And we had a great preseason.”
Hester said his team’s season will largely depend on how fast his young Lady Tigers can earn their stripes.
“We have the two juniors, two sophomores and seven freshmen,” Hester said. “So those seven freshmen will play a big role in the way our season goes.”
The Lady Tigers opened the season in winning fashion Monday night, defeating Atlanta 69-59.
Brown led the way with 39 points and 11 assists while Dean totaled 21 points and 17 rebounds.
“We had also had some younger players — Jamaya Crump, Alavia Hester and Jahkeria Abney play big roles on the defensive end to start the season with the win,” Coach Hester said.
Photo: Andy B. Cross