Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

SPORTS >>Red Devil intensity needs to rise

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils lost most of their offense from last year’s team that advanced to the state playoffs for the first time in several years and sent three players to college. They head into this season with only one returning starter, and he is out with a broken hand for at least the first few games. That leaves Red Devil coach Vic Joyner with the task of finding players to fill gaps and put points on the board this season.

The team’s top two scorers graduated and signed college scholarships. Only senior Kajuan Watson returns as a starter, but there are some quality players back that saw a lot of minutes last season. Most are big and bulky, and the Red Devils will try to utlize that strength.

“We’re not going to have any problems with size,” Joyner said. “We don’t have anybody that’s going to tower over people, but we’re going to have some bulk and a lot of strength down on that block. We got some big kids.” Gerron Riddles and Norvel Gabriel, who is still with the football team, provide most of the returning experience down low. Both are strong players, and will be helped by fellow seniors Marcus King and Ryan Gooden. King is also in football, and Gooden has performed extremely well when he does what Joyner asks of him.”

“He dominates practice when he’ll stay down low and not pop out on the perimeter,” Joyner said. “He just wants to keep doing that and that’s he and I clash. He’s going to play the post when I say or he’s going to be passing out water bottles.”
Sophomores Antwain Lockhart and Cortrell Eskridge, as well as junior Damian Akins, will also provide a lift on the low block. Both are in the 6-foot-3 range, and both have good strength for their age.

“We should be solid inside if we can ever get everybody playing hard,” Joyner said. “Right now that’s our main problem. We were pretty pitiful in the jamboree because we didn’t hustle, and we’ve got too much inexperience not to hustle.” The Red Devils made a lot of mistakes in their half-games against Little Rock Parkview and Little Rock Central, but that’s not what had the head Red Devil upset.

“We’re not really a young team, but we don’t have but a couple of guys with much court experience at this level,” Joyner said. “When you’re as inexperienced as we are, you’ve got to hustle. We’re going to make mistakes and go through some growing pains. I know that. We’re just going to have to hustle and scrap and make up for those mistakes. We didn’t do that and we’re going to get killed in this league if we don’t start doing that.”

Joyner lost two outstanding