Scotlandville’s Ja’Vonte Smart grabs headlines just about everywhere the Hornets play. Consider last weekend to be a prime example.
Smart scored 102 points, added 15 rebounds and 13 assists to help Scotlandville beat two Texas powerhouses at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Duncanville, Texas.
With Smart, an LSU signee, and Madison Prep’s Josh Leblanc, a Georgetown signee, leading the way there is no doubt that Baton Rouge has plenty of individual boys basketball talent yet again.
However, as the 2017-18 basketball season moves to center stage on the local sports scene, coaches sum up the prospects for this season with one word — parity.
“I’m pleased with how we started,” Madison Prep coach Jeffery Jones said. “You’ve got some teams that may be down a little, but you’ve got others that are better. Baker made it to the quarterfinals in 3A last year, and they’re talented and big. Jehovah-Jireh was a runner-up in Division V last year, and they’re just as good.”
Jones’ reference to Class 3A teams is notable. His Chargers move up to Class 3A based on enrollment after winning the last two Class 2A titles.
MPA opened its season in the Lighthouse Classic in Corinth, Mississippi, with wins over two Mississippi powers, Olive Branch and Columbus. Louisiana-Lafayette signee Kobe Julien had 22 points in that game. The Chargers' 5-6 guard Marcus Guss had 20 in that game and 15 in the win over Columbus.
Smart's effort in an 85-77 victory over Little Elm will be hard to top. He poured in 59 points on 17 of 25 shooting with seven 3-pointers. Smart, who set out to score 44 in honor of his late father’s birthday, scored 25 fourth-quarter points.
But the defending Division I champion Hornets also provide an example of parity. Scotlandville is 1-1 vs. Louisiana teams, losing at the buzzer to Carencro at the Catholic High tournament last week. Smart averaged 25.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game as a junior.
“I think you’ve got a lot of teams that will be better,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “I see a lot of balance. We have Jay (Smart), but around him we are starting three sophomores and a freshman. The first guys off the bench are a sophomore and a freshman. There’s still a lot of work to put in.”
The Hornets figure to get a push in District 4-5A from a group led by Walker and Zachary. McKinley, a team that lost to Scotlandville in the Division I semifinals, returns its leader in Tyrece Radford and is again expected to be among the District 5-5A leaders.
Plaquemine was a 4A quarterfinalist last season but lost point guard Herb Thomas to a football injury. With MPA in 3A, University High has a new challenger after three 3A titles and a Division II runner-up finish last spring.
With Madison Prep’s move up, The Dunham School and Episcopal help lead the Class 2A/Division III group. Dunham’s 6-6 Jordan Wright is a top prospect for 2019 and already has 12 scholarship offers after averaging 25.6 points per game a year ago.
One of the biggest surprises so far has been another 2A/Division III school, The Church Academy, formerly known as Christian Life. The Crusaders of first-year coach Ryan Price, a former Southern University assistant, were 6-0 through last week.
Price's move to TCA is not the only notable change. Hall of fame coach Kenny Almond is back on the bench, now at Class B Holden.
Jehovah-Jireh is off to a 3-1 start with Donald Johnson III and Trent Payne combining to average 35 points a game.
“We graduated two guys and have other guys who have stepped into those spots,” JCA coach Dirk Ricks said. “Like everybody else, we’re trying to get better.”
Players to watch
Calvin Adams, Zachary, 6-1, Sr.
Jalen Cook, Walker, 6-3, So.
Donald Johnson III, Jehovah-Jireh, 6-2, Sr.
Kobe Julien, Madison Prep, 6-5, Sr.
Josh Leblanc, Madison Prep, 6-7, Sr.
Jimel London, East Ascension, 5-9, Sr.
Tyrece Radford, McKinley, 6-3, Sr.
Eric Reed, University, 6-3, Sr.
Ja’Vonte Smart, Scotlandville, 6-4, Sr.
Brendan Vessell, Baker, 6-0, Sr.
James Weather, Glen Oaks, 6-0, Jr.
Jordan Wright, Dunham, 6-6, Jr.