A pair of 2A schools may have the area’s top talent in a year of competitive parity for a new-look District 1-5A.
ESPN ranks North Caddo forward and Texas A&M commit Robert Williams No. 1 in Louisiana, and he’s committed to avoiding a third straight state semifinal loss to Riverside Academy. But the 6-foot-8 forward is also 0-4 the last two seasons against district rivals Lakeview, largely thanks to reigning Times All-Area Player of the Year Tay Hardy.
He led the Gators to two straight state title appearances while never losing a district game, but they couldn’t top Riverside, the three-time defending champs. The challenge is clear for Lakeview and North Caddo, who must find a way to replace UL Lafayette freshman guard Kadavion Evans and his 26 points per game last season.
“I think we’ve got some athletes,” Meikle said. “If we can blend them in to play with Robert, we’re going to be really good.”
Junior Sherrod Hill returns after sitting out for a year, and Meikle said 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Chris Thomas has a chance to be special. The Rebels quest to improve on their 29-4 season begins Thursday at Huntington, one of the favorites in District 1-4A.
Coach Mack Jones heads into his 13th year leading the Raiders with a young roster that still features three returning starters. Freshman Tramichael Moton will take over starting point guard duties in a backcourt led by his brother, sophomore Larry Moton, and sophomore Tahji Davis should be the team’s biggest threat on the interior.
“There are no excuses,” Jones said, noting junior guard Gabriel Gilliam should also return to the lineup. “They’ve been in the fire. They’ve been in the playoff last year so they understand.”
The Raiders hope to get ready to challenge defending champs Fair Park and newly 4A Bossier with the help of a brutal nonconference schedule, which features a possible matchup with ESPN’s No. 5 player in the country, Malik Monk, at a tournament in Bentonville, Ark. Huntington opens Tuesday night at Captain Shreve and later plays both Southwood and Airline.
All three of those teams will be looking to catch Byrd and Parkway in District 1-5A after both schools lost several key seniors. Captain Shreve coach Todd Martinez said the top of the standings may not be as strong as last season, when Parkway pushed eventual champion Scotlandville in the quarterfinals and Byrd got even closer in the semis.
But it’s also difficult to find any weak links, including a Gators team eager to bounce back from a disappointing 3-8 season with newfound emotional leadership from senior guard Toronco Loston. Parkway coach Mike Guess can’t say enough good things about his own leader in the backcourt, Keondre Wudtee, who will be surrounded by a tall, talented group of sophomores including 6-foot-4 forwards Terrace Marshall and Justin Rogers.
“If we lost one (last season) we were going to win the next five or six and respond in a good positive way to adversity,” Guess said. “This team still needs to learn how to do that because we’re young.”
Byrd figures to rely on depth and balance to replace the Times’ All-City Player of the Year, Chad Lott, and Martinez said Southwood brings plenty of length and athleticism. Just like in football, the one wildcard will be Evangel, who shared a 1-3A title with Bossier and split a home-and-home with 1-5A champ Byrd last season.
The departure of the Eagles and the Bearkats leaves a wide open 1-3A race, with Booker T. Washington the likely favorite. New coach LeAndre Gibson will make his Lions debut Tuesday against Woodlawn.
Things are a bit clearer in 1-1A, where Plain Dealing coach David Bryant said junior Keldrick Carper will lead his team’s efforts to take down defending champ Arcadia. Bryant said his team lost some big, physical football players but added some talented underclassmen such as freshman guard Dakeldrick Oliver.
“We’re moving so much faster this year it’s unreal,” said Bryant, noting this year’s team features far more true basketball players. “We’re just making mistakes that youth going to make. We will be better. No ifs and or buts in February.”
Of course, that’s the focus for everyone on the quest for district titles or a spot in the Final 28. Expect the competition level to rise as football winds down, and Northwest Louisiana again looks to be home to some of the state’s top players and teams.