Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

SPORTS >>Cabot putting youth on floor in new league

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Cabot boys basketball team has a new look this year, a completely new look. The Panthers are coming off their first winning season in many years, but they’re doing it without a single starter returning. There are a few familiar faces in seniors Alex Sharp, Justin Haas and Jacob Trammell. Haas started a few games at the two guard, and the other two played several key minutes off the bench all season, but that doesn’t change the fact that this year’s Panthers are young.

In last night’s Jamboree matchups against Mills and Little Rock Christian at Mills, Cabot started Sharp, Tramel, junior Sam Bates and sophomores Adam Sterrenberg and Austin Johnson. Haas was, and will be most of the time, the first player off the bench.

I feel really good about our top six,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “Justin is really like a starter, we just feel like we need Austin’s height in there to start with. Justin is a good ball handler and can shoot it well, and he’s a steady player and a leader. So the top six are all like starters and I’m real comfortable with them.”

Trammell and Haas are 5-foot-9 guards, while the rest of the lineup features very good size. The Panthers won’t have a 6-10 on the block like they’ve had the last few years, but Sharp is listed at 6-8 this year, and will provide some bulk and strength that has been missing. Bates, at 6-4, will play the other post position. “I feel like Alex is going to have a breakthrough year this year,” Bridges said. “He’s an outstanding young man and he’s worked hard since I got here. And I think Bates is going to compliment him very well down low.”

The forward spots will be manned by the sophomores. Sterrenberg, 6-2, and Johnson, 6-6, were scoring machines for Cabot North and Cabot South last year. Each average above 25 points per game, and will bring that offense to the varsity this year.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to score this year,” Bridges said. “The sophomores bring a lot of offensive ability, Haas was our best shooter last year, Trammell’s shot is looking good right now. Sharp and Bates are playing well. We’re just going to have to get better on defense. Last year we played excellent defense all year long, we just couldn’t throw it in the ocean.This year it looks like the opposite. I feel really good about our ability to score, but we’ve got a long way to go on defense.”
Cabot’s conference is a new one, and a welcome one according to Bridges. Dropping the old 5A-East schedule for the new 7A-Central doesn’t hurt the head Panther’s feelings at all.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not going to miss West Memphis, Forrest City and Jonesboro at all,” Bridges said. “Jacksonville is building a powerhouse over there too, and Sylvan Hills is always right there. That’s more teams that could make the playoffs right there, so what can you do? Honestly though, there’s so much parity out there right now, you’re going to have to earn it no matter where you play. I think this conference will be a better fit for us though.”

Bridges gives the nod as favorite to Pine Bluff. The Zebras are always a state title contender, and have won it twice in the past six years. “I think you have to tag Pine Bluff because they’re a perennial power,” Bridges said. “I really don’t know a whole lot about all these teams, but you can never leave out North Little Rock, and I think Conway is going to be very good this year.”
The rest of Cabot’s new conference is made up of Little Rock Catholic, Little Rock Central, Bryant and Russellville.
That’s a tough schedule in its own right, but Bridges’ team has set high goals for the season.

“We want to build off what we did last year,” Bridges said. “Last we had our first winning season in a while, this year we want two winning seasons. We want to win 20 games. That’s our goal. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not, but that’s what we’re shooting for. We feel like that will have us in place to maybe win a conference championship and get us to the playoffs playing for the state championship. Right now though, we’re going to have to get better on defense. I’m getting scared to death to be honest because we’re so young, but I’m excited too. We’ve got some kids that can create off the dribble and make things happen that we haven’t had. If the defense comes along, I think we’re going to be pretty darn good. Defense is our Achilles heel right now, but that’s our job as coaches to teach ‘em and get them better.”