When the New Iberia boys basketball team takes the floor Friday night for the start of the second round of District 3-5A play, the Yellow Jackets will do so as the co-leaders in the league.
Not even New Iberia coach Todd Russ could have imagined such a scenario more than two months ago when as assortment of reasons severely cut his team down to size.
Instead of featuring a more well-rounded team with perimeter and interior capabilities, suddenly the Yellow Jackets became more one-sided when they lost a 6-foot-6 center and a pair of 6-3 players.
The result has been New Iberia’s version of “Extreme Makeover” that’s produced a 15-9 record and a share of the District 3-5A lead at 5-1 heading into Friday’s home game with Comeaux (17-8, 4-2) at 7:15 p.m.
“I would be lying for me to say that I expected us to be where we were are,” Russ said. “I give the kids all the credit.”
New Iberia, which has won four straight and 10 of its past 12 games, is tied for the league lead with idle Acadiana (11-9, 5-1) and holds a game lead over Comeaux and Barbe (17-7, 4-2).
“Earlier in the year we weren’t who we thought we would be,” Russ said of his team’s 3-6 start. “It took us some time to find an identity, and we had some ups and downs.”
Russ said after going through the summer with what he believed would be a formidable team the team’s complexion changed. An academic casualty the day before school resulted in the loss of a player, a disciplinary measure and a football player who gave up basketball to earn a scholarship resulted in two more departures.
That left New Iberia devoid of any returning players 6-foot or taller, forcing the Jackets to turn to a four-guard offense and rely on a total of seven players.
Not exactly the blueprint for long-range survival in District 3-5A, but the Yellow Jackets have adapted and not allowed their shortcomings to become a deterrent.
“They follow the game plan, they stick with it and understand we’re undersized,” Russ said. “We have to play a lot different than everybody else in our district. Hands down we’re the smallest team in the district.”
Russ sensed a turn in the season during the St. Martinville Holiday Shootout when New Iberia went 1-2 after opening with 58-50 loss to Breaux Bridge in overtime.
The Jackets responded with a 59-54 win over cross-town rival Westgate and a 39-38 victory over Helen Cox with both opponents featuring sizable challenges.
“We watched film of the Breaux Bridge game and pointed out certain instances where we allowed their size to determine the outcome of the game,” Russ said. “Early in the year, we allowed bigger teams to have an effect on us getting to the basket. After that things started to click.”
Since then New Iberia’s only loss has been at Comeaux, 41-25, to start district play.
Balanced scoring and defense have been hallmarks of New Iberia’s success with five different leading scorers in six district games. Over that span they’ve also had three different players lead them in rebounds, steals and assists.
Junior shooting guard Chamaje Barideaux is the team’s leading scorer at 11.3 points with junior Tyler Derouen supplying 9.7 points and senior Tyrone Jenkins 8.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists.
“Different guys wear different hats on the team,” Russ said. “They’ve all accepted the role that’s called for that night.”