By Rob Patrick
The Bryant Hornets basketball team was better at the end of the 2010-11 season than[more] they were at the beginning. That’s what a coach strives for.
Unfortunately, after back-to-back wins over Cabot and Russellville and just a 4-point loss to North Little Rock, the Hornets kind of hit the wall. Needing one win in their last three games to make the Class 7A State Tournament, they just couldn’t get over the hump. Even more excruciating than the loss at North Little Rock was a double-overtime squeaker at home against Little Rock Central in the last game of the regular season.
Ironically, the team to make State when the Hornets weren’t able to close the deal was the West Memphis Blue Devils, who played in the power-packed East Conference. And, after being on the verge of not even making the tourney, the Devils put together a run all the way to the finals where they fell to champion Little Rock Hall.
Now, to unofficially open the 2011-12 season, West Memphis visits Bryant tonight in a pre-season benefit game. Tipoff should be around 6:30 p.m.
The core of that 2010-11 team returns for a second year under head coach Michael Abrahamson.
Four starters are back including senior guards Jordan Griffin and Brantly Cozart along with 6-7 senior post Quinton Motto and shooter Marcus Wilson, who worked his way into the lineup by the end of the campaign as a sophomore.
“Both those guys averaged 13 points a game last year,” said Abrahamson of Cozart and Griffin. “They’re ready to roll. Motto spent the summer in New Mexico playing baseball but has made a lot of improvement since he’s been back.”
The team also includes senior Logan Trudell, juniors Luke Rayburn, Strodney Davis, Jalen Hewett, Riley Hall, Leon Neale and Zach Cambron. Sophomores C.J. Rainey, Anthony Black, Cedearrian Crosby, Caleb Strain, Brian Reed and Mitch Scoggins join in this year. Abrahamson also expects senior Travis Royal and sophomore Greyson Giles to join the team after the football season is over.
“Zach Cambron will play a lot this year,” Abrahamson commented. “He’s made a lot of improvement. He’s injured right now and will miss the West Memphis game. Leon Neale has shown a lot of improvement. We’ve got a couple of sophomore guards in Anthony Black, who came over from Little Rock Central, and C.J. Rainey, who’s shown a lot of improvement. Then we’ve got some other veteran guards — we’re very guard-heavy — with Logan Trudell, Strodney Davis and Luke Rayburn.
“I feel like we’re in a better position this year, at least from an offensive standpoint,” he related. “We’ve got more people that can do more things. We hope to not be one-dimensional.
“I thing I’m looking forward to seeing is if we can keep the defensive mentality the way we had it last year,” the coach continued. “Guys like Kyle Nossaman and Houston Garner really set the tone for us defensively. Offensively, statistically they didn’t put up very big numbers but, defensively, they set the tone. I’m wondering if we’re going to maintain that in addition to being better offensively. That’s going to be a big key.”
With a year under their belt, Abrahamson plans to loosen the reins on his charges this season.
“One of my emphases after last season was to help my players improve individually so that, in turn, we would improve as a team,” he explained. “I really want less control over the offense. I really want to call fewer plays. I really want to play faster, especially off defensive rebounds and turnovers. And I really want to let my players make plays. I really want them to be able to react more. But we had to put in a lot of work, putting them in certain situations so they could react. (During off-season) there was a lot of teaching, a lot of individual work and team work.
“It’s the way I want to coach,” he emphasized. “It’s the way I wanted to coach last year. I felt like this was a process and I had to get certain things right first and I didn’t feel like we were ready for that last year. Maybe we were. Maybe that’s a mistake I made. This year, I’m trying to make us ready. And, if we’re not, we’re going to do it anyway. At least, we’re going to try to do it.”
Abrahamson said that it was a good summer for his team.
“We went to some team camps, one at Hendrix College,” he mentioned. “We got off to slow start, finished well. We went to Arkansas Tech for one day, played three games. That didn’t go so well. That was at the end of the Little Hornets camp, probably bad scheduling on my part. The kids worked the camp and they were probably a little tired.
“We went to Sheridan team camp and we really played well,” he went on. “Things really started to come together with some of the new things we’re trying to do offensively and defensively. Some kids really played well that we’d been waiting for them to step up. So we had a good summer. We worked hard, lifted hard. People are committed.”
As for his goals in tonight’s scrimmage, Abrahamson said, “We have the same goals every game. We want to hold the other team to a certain shooting percentage. We want to out-rebound them by a certain number. We want to hold ourselves to a certain number of turnovers. We have a certain goal pertaining to free throws. We have a certain goal pertaining to charges. Those are our goals.
“More importantly, I want to see where we are, how we stand,” he concluded. “Where do we need to go from here? We’ve had a lot of practice. The players are ready to play someone else and we’re just ready for a different sort of evaluation.”
After tonight, the Hornets will have until their official opener on Thursday, Nov. 17, at Fort Smith Southside to work on what the coach discovers against West Memphis.