For Baker coach James Holmes, there is only one thing better than celebrating Christmas this week — playing in the Bob Pettit/Coca-Cola East Baton Rouge Parish tournament.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is the tournament,” Holmes said. “Being able to coach in it is such a big deal. When I coached at other places, including Family Christian, I always made sure I got to the games pretty much every night, whether they were at Zachary, Tara, Southern or wherever. People talk about it and who is playing. You’ve got great teams, some great coaches and some of the best competition.”
The four-day tourney tips off Tuesday with the first of five games starting at 1:30 p.m. at McKinley. Top-seeded Scotlandville (11-3), No. 2 McKinley (11-5) and third-seeded Baker (13-4) won’t play until Wednesday’s quarterfinals also at McKinley. Action moves to Family Christian for the semifinals Thursday and the 7:30 p.m. Friday final.
“This tournament is and always has been a measuring stick,” Scotlandville High coach Carlos Sample said. “Teams look forward to playing in it because they get to see where they are. It also points you toward district and the rest of the season.”
Sample’s Hornets return to the EBR mix after a one-year absence. Scotlandville played in a national holiday tournament a year ago. This time around the EBR tourney offers just the challenge the Hornets seek. LSU signee Ja’Vonte Smart leads a young lineup loaded with sophomores.
Smart is averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. The rebounding total is notable because at 6-foot-4 Smart is one of the tallest players on the team along with 6-4 sophomore Jonathan Horton. Another sophomore, Reece Beekman, adds 14 points and four rebounds per game.
McKinley is led by its senior standout, Tyrece Radford, who has averaged 31 points per game over the Panthers’ past three games and 25 per game overall. Frederick Carr and 6-5 Marcus Coleman also average in double figures for MHS. If the seedings follow form, McKinley, the defending EBR champion, would meet Scotlandville for the first time since a Division I semifinal that SHS won 47-44.
“We enter the tournament with much love and respect for all the teams,” McKinley coach Harold Boudreaux said. “Any given night a team can win. Thoughts about playing (Scotlandville) again are in the back of the mind, certainly. But you have to focus on each game.”
Baker with 6-foot-8 post players Jaylin Johnson and Xavier Banks and guard Brendan Vessell, a Southern Lab transfer averaging 19.9 points per game, is considered the “X factor.” Holmes picks sixth-seeded Broadmoor (10-7) as one of the under the radar teams to follow.
McKinley’s Boudreaux and Holmes note the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde nature of early-season basketball, saying they are interested to see "which team" shows up this week. Fans eager to get a look at Smart before his LSU debut should note Sample’s analogy about making lemonade.
“Jay is going to be Jay, and he works to make everybody around him better,” Sample said. “He is the lemon, but we need those other ingredients, like the water and sugar to make it all happen. It takes everybody.”