Warren Arceneaux column: ‘Tis season for hardcore hardcourts

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2022

With the annual Superdome Prep Classic in the books, all eyes turn to the hardwood with holiday high school hoops tournament season is in full swing.

Some of the constant themes in Southwest Louisiana have been in place to start the season – such as usual suspects St. Louis and Fairview being among the top teams on the girls side, while Iowa again looks like the top boys team. Additionally, a few up-and-coming programs are off to promising starts. There’s plenty of interesting topics to follow as we approach the district play portion of the schedule.

Among the things catching my eye:

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ST LOUIS THREE-PEAT: The Saints, winners of the last two Division II state championships, were already facing a tough task in its quest for another title with the loss of three starters, including all-state forward Myca Tail. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association added to the degree of difficulty with its reorganization, with last year’s Division III champion Lafayette Christian Academy joining the Saints in Division II.

Nevertheless, the Saints have shown they are still a top contender for a third title, starting the season with nine wins in 12 games, including a series of quality wins over Liberty, Rosepine, Sulphur and Ponchatoula. Returning all-state guard Paris Guillory is posting monster scoring numbers, while Gabbie Link and Ragan Kee have developed into consistent secondary scoring options.

The Saints always play a tough nondistrict schedule and should be well-prepared for the more difficult path to repeating it will face this postseason.

BIG SCHOOL BOYS DROUGHT TO END? Three seasons have gone by with no area boys team in the three largest classes reaching the state tournament — both St. Louis and Leesville accomplished the feat in 2019.

Iowa looks like the team most likely to end the streak. The Yellow Jackets return most of the core of last year’s quarterfinals team, including a pair of dynamic guards in Desamonte Gradney and Dashawn Ceasar, who has maintained his momentum from a strong second half of last season. The Jackets have started the season with seven consecutive wins, all by 23 or more points. Size was an issue for the Jackets last year, but football imports Andrew Duhon, Luke Guillory and Lucious Guillory give head coach Robert Melanson several options up front.

District mate Lake Charles College Prep is off to a great start at 9-2, including wins over Washington-Marion, Hahnville, Alexandria and Bossier. The Trailblazers have a dynamic pair of guards in Ryan Batiste and Elijah Garrick and a deep roster that has head coach Sean Andrus using two groups of five players.

CLASS 5A RESURGENCE: The area’s three boys programs have a combined two playoff wins since Barbe reached the semifinals in 2007, a 2011 Sulphur win over LaGrange and last year’s Barbe win over Sulphur. That should change this season with the Bucs returning a strong group led by guard Jabbari Barry and forward Ja’Quise Richmond. The Bucs are 6-4 against a beefed-up schedule. All of the four losses were by single digits against strong opposition.

Sulphur and Sam Houston are ahead of the Bucs in the early power ratings, with the Tors leading the way in the 10th spot. Sulphur is 8-3 with a deep roster led by point guard Zavien Trent and versatile big man Zach Bates.

Sam Houston started the season with four consecutive wins before single-digit losses to Washington-Marion and Northside. Sophomore Seth Ned and senior Brendon Guidroz give the Broncos one of the area’s best backcourts. The Broncos play in a spiffy new gym with elaborate game-day operations that add extra entertainment to the festivities.

KILLER B’s: Fairview, Hathaway at the top of Class B. Losing all-state scoring machine Rylee Cloud has done little to slow the Fairview juggernaut, led by point guard Reesie Jinks, a defensive dynamo who also deftly handles the Panthers’ drive-and-kick offense. A.J. Williams, Bella Smith, Ella Reeves and Kaylee Guillory lead the Fairview stable of shooters. The Panthers have beaten defending state champions Parkway and Lafayette Christian in addition to chief rival Hathway.

The Hornets are young with one shooter but have enough firepower to challenge Fairview in Division IV. Hathaway made nine 3-pointers in the opening quarter of a win over Westlake and feature a pair of dynamic scorers in Sienna Guidry and Lamiyah Sanchez.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux@americanpress.com