Ja’Coby Carter, center, blocks for the Jehovah-Jireh Chrstian Academy Warriors during the Madison Preparatory Academy tournament on Thursday.

Advocate photo by CAROLINE OURSO

Last weekend Jehovah-Jireh boys basketball coach Dirk Ricks loaded his team in a van and travelled more than four hours to play defending Class C state champion Summerfield.

The Warriors lost 55-51, but Ricks considered it to be time well spent to play a top nondistrict opponent. Fast-forward a week and it’s the same drill, but a much shorter trip.

Class C Jehovah-Jireh (21-5) plays Class 5A power Scotlandville (17-1) in nondistrict action set for approximately 7 p.m. Friday at Scotlandville.

“I’ve had people ask me why play Scotlandville,” Ricks said. “And my answer is ‘Why not.’ Our goal is to be the best team we can be every day. The only way you can be the best is if you can play the best and win some of those to be one of the best.”

That is a pretty bold statement from the coach of a small school that hasn’t made the LHSAA’s Top 28 tournament since finishing as the Class C runner-up in 2003. Ricks says it with passion. Now in his 25th year as a coach, Ricks' career includes coaching JJCA's forerunner, Divine Guidance.

The chance to play Scotlandville, a team led by five-star point guard prospect Ja’Vonte Smart, came about by chance. Both teams played in the Madison Prep tournament last month and the two coaches, both Istrouma High graduates, checked their schedules and agreed to play each other.

“We saw them in the Madison Prep tournament, and I knew we needed some nondistrict games,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “Just a couple of Istrouma guys talking and we set it up. I didn’t look at what class they were in. They’ve had a lot of success against some good teams.”

Sample makes a solid point. The Warriors have beaten 5A McKinley, Class 4A St. Michael, 3A Baker and 1A Southern Lab along the way. JJCA also beat Summerfield in an early-season tournament.

“The thing I don’t think people get is that most guys don’t go on to play in college,” Ricks said. “We want these kids to be as good as they can possibly be on this level. So why not go out and play the best teams and the best players you can.”

The balanced Jehovah-Jireh attack is led by 6-foot-1 senior Ja'Coby Carter and 6-2 junior Donald Johnson III, both of whom average 16 points per game. Carter, a Catholic High transfer who was immediately eligible because he lives in the JJCA attendance zone, provides added offense for a team that advanced to the quarterfinals last season.

Junior Trenton Payne (6-2) adds 14 points a game, while sophomore point guard Jaron Davis is at 12.0.

Win or lose, Ricks believes the game will be a great tuneup for next Friday’s District 8-C showdown with 20-8 Family Christian.

“It’s all about getting better," Ricks said.

Parting shots

University High guard John Jones scored his 1,000th career point in last week’s victory against Port Allen High … Christian Life Academy coach Kenny Gautreau picked up his 500th career win over the holidays. Gautreau’s previous coaching stops included Doyle, St. Amant and French Settlement.

Madison Prep will host a series of girls games starting at 2 p.m. Saturday. Varsity games include: Ellender vs. Madison Prep at 3 p.m., Mount Carmel vs. Lafayette Christian at 4:30 p.m. and University High vs. Scotlandville at 6 p.m.

Follow Robin Fambrough on Twitter, @FambroughAdv