SPORTS >>Lonoke boys set bar high this season
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
The Lonoke Jackrabbits didn’t have a bad year last year, but it wasn’t what Lonoke typically expects from the basketball team.
It was the first time in many years that the Jackrabbits didn’t make the state tournament, but they only missed it by one game. Only one starter returns from that team, and he probably won’t start at the beginning of this season. That doesn’t mean the expectations aren’t still very lofty for the Jackrabbits.
“My goals are very high for this club,” Lonoke coach Wes Swift said. “To be honest, this is one of the most skilled basketball teams we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve got no experience, no big games to draw from or anything like that, but there’s tremendous up side. I’m very excited about this group.”
The team is young, but Swift will be able to go to his bench liberally this season, a luxury he hasn’t had recently.
“Luckily we’re going to be as deep as we’ve been in a while,” Swift said. “I don’t really know who the go-to people are going to be right now, but I got a lot of guys I like.”
Senior guard Kylon Boyd is the returning starter, but he missed most of summer ball and is playing his way back into the rotation. He is the team’s most athletic player, a good shooter and quick defender.
Senior Stanley Staggers and junior Bradley Spencer come back after playing lots of quality minutes last season. Spencer will be the point man most of the time. Staggers is a good ball handler and the team’s best on-the-ball defender.
“Stanley has done a great job all summer defending,” Swift said. “By far he’s our best defensive player and on the ball is where he really excels. He’ll guard our opponents’ best ball handler. He’s also done a great job of breaking down pressure with his ball handling.”
Tyrone Dobbins is a junior guardthat is aggressive with the ball and aggressive guarding it as well. He drew the assignment of covering Forrest City’s major prospect Stephon Weaver in a team camp this summer, and did a good job of slowing him down.
“He went in to guard Weaver when he was lighting us up and did a good job,” Swift said. He’s a slasher. He’s not afraid to take the ball to the basket, and we need guys like that. We’re working on his footwork but I’m pleased with where he’s at right now.”
Sammy Coleman yielded his point-guard duties and will play mostly at the two this season. His shot has come along nicely since the move, according to Swift.
Sophomore Clarence Harris will also play guard. He brings good size to the perimeter at 6-0.
“He slashes well and has a good set shot. We’re working on his court vision, but he’s somebody that can really score.”
On the inside, sophomore Jordan Lambert is the team’s biggest player. At 6-5 and still growing, Swift expects big things.
“They call him Juicy, but I told him we couldn’t call him that until he gets good,” Swift said. “He didn’t play until eighth grade and he sat the bench that year. So he’s really only got one season of experience. He’s got a ways to go as far as technique and all that, but he’s got tremendous potential. We’re looking for him to end up 6-7, or 6-8 and really be a dominant player.”
Senior Brock Clement will also help out on the inside, and can also step out some. Pat Smith is a 5-9 senior guard that will be counted on to break up zones.
“He’s a guy that’s going to have to play his role, but it’s going to be an important one at times,” Swift said. “When teams are really trying to fill up the lane, we’re going to need him to step out there and hit some threes. He’s really worked on his shot. He hit 4 of 4 in the jamboree last week, so we’re looking for that from him.”
Lonoke is in a new conference, but not necessarily an easier one since the old 6AAA, nicknamed the International League.
Top-five teams Heber Springs and Marianna are picked to fight for the top spot. Swift agrees with the prediction, but believes his team can compete.
“Those two definitely have the advantage,” Swift said. But our goal is to win it. Mountain View and Southside Batesville are big-time basketball schools. I heard Bald Knob went to Forrest City’s team camp and played really well. Newport always has athletes and now they’ve got a new coach that’s going to make them better. It’s a tough league, but I feel good about this team.”