By T. Scott Boatright
A key part of the Lincoln Preparatory School boys basketball team remains out on the football field preparing for this week’s second-round playoff game at Haynesville while hoops coach Antonio Hudson is getting his team ready for Wednesday’s season opener against Gibsland Coleman.
The Panthers will be missing some key pieces that are still on the gridiron, but Hudson feels that could actually help make his team better by the time District 1-1A play begins.
“Based off of last year’s team we have at least four people, maybe five who started at least one game still out playing football,” Hudson said. “But the thing about it is that we actually have some quality pieces out in the gym now gaining experience that can really help everybody out in the long run once the football players get back to the court. Those guys not playing football right now but getting more basketball reps is really going to help us out in the long run.”
Hudson said some of those key non-football players will be Jakyren Montgomery, a transfer from Bastrop who had to sit out last year but is a strong scorer, junior point guard Brandon Heard, who Hudson said had “a really good summer and is starting to come into his own,” and Steven Burks, who saw solid action as a reserve last season.
“The football team is playing really well and I can see them going deeper in the playoffs than many people might think, so we’ll move into the basketball season without those guys, but the guys the basketball team does have right now will be getting some quality reps and learning to play without some of those football guys.”
But the football players will play key roles once they round back into football shape.
“They all serve their purpose. Dmitry (Payne) may be the one who scores the most but he’s not going to be the only one who brings a lot to the team. Darrell Jackson will bring 3-point shooting and basketball IQ. Ta’Rell Simmons is an energy guy and will be another key player. ‘Spider’ – Emanuel Bryant – is the same type of kid. Braylin (Mayfield) has a chance to be really good because he can score on multiple levels and can play multiple positions, and then we have big Imani Marcel. Last year he was the glue for us, especially during our late run just because he brings size and is a great relief player. He didn’t play long but that allowed him to play harder and faster when he was out there. He brings a lot to the table.”
After a slight change last season, Hudson said the Panthers will return to more aggressive defensive play this season.
“Last year we were a little more conservative in the way we defended,” Hudson said. “That was just because of COVID and having been off for so long and then even during the season we had to quarantine four or five times. During a four-month season you’re talking about missing at least two weeks at a time at least four times. So we went back to a more conventional style of play. But we’re moving back to our tradition of getting up and pressuring on defense and making things harder for the opposing offense to try and score.”
And other than the 6-foot-4-inch Marcel, the Panthers won’t be worried about putting players in particular positions.
“We pretty much play position-less except when Imani’s on the floor,” Hudson said. “When he’s on the floor everybody in the gym knows where he’s going. He’s going to get down there and bang. But with everybody else — one thing we pride ourselves on is being able to guard multiple positions. Especially with our size, we can’t be limited to just doing one thing, so we try to play position-less basketball. We try to get up in your face, transition to score quick and easy and that kind of thing.”
Hudson said the depth his team is building with players still on the football field will be crucial.
With the style that we want to play, we have to be able to go at least eight or nine deep, because the way we get up and guard, somebody’s going to get into foul trouble, somebody’s going to get tired or somebody might be injured. You have to be able to go seven, eight or nine deep in case those things happen, and this team can. (Legendary Grambling Lab High School coach Michael Lyons, who Hudson played prep ball under) always told me to believe in Murphy’s Law and that anything that can happen will happen, so you have to be prepared, and that means being deep.”
And deep the Panthers should be.
“I didn’t even mention some of the younger kids. I’ve got a couple of freshmen and sophomores who will make an impact, and have an eighth grader good enough that he’ll be playing up and on the varsity team. So the future is bright. The key will be making sure everybody buys into it. We have a lot of good players, and sometimes when that happens people might become selfish and worry about themselves instead of the team first. So, making sure that as coaches we do our part to make sure this team can handle that part of it will be imperative for our success this season.
The Lincoln Prep girls basketball team returns a pair of key starters to try and lead a group of new and to some degree raw new players.
The Lady Panthers have one senior and two juniors that didn’t play last year (Kimoni McMurray and Tynia Simmons) to mix with a number of sophomores and freshmen.
“Right now, we’re just trying to work on the girls’ skills levels and get them acclimated to the game,” Lady Panthers coach Fred Hearn said. “Some of these young ladies haven’t played ever. We’re basically teaching the game to most of them through drills at this point.”
The best news for Hearn is that last year’s top District 1-1A scorer returns in Tyan Heard, who averaged 30 points per game in district play last season.
Sophomores Traciona Abney and Asijah Wright both received quality playing last season and will be key for this year’s Lady Panthers team.
“The main thing is we have to learn to come together. I lost our second-leading scorer and team leader to graduation, so we have to find a leader. We have to find a voice. A coach can only voice so much. You’ve got to have somebody in the locker room who’s going to echo that on the level of the athlete as well.
“I think accountability-wise we’re good. I think it’s a lot better than last year as far as buying in. We ended last season extremely strong and made it to the third round of the playoffs. But every year you start over.”
The Lady Panthers fell in a jamboree game at Arcadia Saturday night and Hearn said that showed him how much work the Lincoln Prep coaching staff and players have in store.
“We didn’t look all that good out there,” Hearn said. “We are working on not only to get them to trust the coach, but to trust each other, too. We want to be a fist instead of just individual fingers.
“It’s going to be about learning and growing up early on. But I think we’ll be all right by the time the district season begins.”
The Lady Panthers will play a tough non-season contest including playing in the Wossman tournament and the Carroll Shoot-out along with games against Richwood, Union Parish, Bastrop and Neville.
“That way you learn who you are and what you have,” Hearn said. “I don’t like going into district play not knowing what kind of team I really have. I’d rather play up and get tougher to prepare for the district season.”
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