The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This English proverb reads like a cliché for most of us. But it also offers the perfect description of high school boys basketball, edition 2015-16.
There have been changes since last season when Scotlandville (Class 5A), University High (3A) and Madison Prep (1A) hoisted state championship trophies.
Some of those changes involve the championship teams. Madison Prep moved from Class 1A to 2A and graduated a group of seniors led by Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball Brandon Sampson, now at LSU.
U-High point guard Skylar Mays, an LSU signee, opted to spend his senior season at Nevada-based Findlay Prep. Scotlandville returns high-profile sophomore Ja’Vonte Smart but must fill the spots vacated by LaMarcus Lee and others.
Don’t expect rivals to shed tears or for the local power structure to change. Those losses to graduation, etc., were real. But so are the talented players looking to fill any void.
“This reminds me a lot of a couple of years ago,” Madison Prep coach Jeffery Jones said. “It’s like it was when Jarell (Martin, ex-MPA and LSU standout now with the Memphis Grizzlies) graduated. It took a while for the other guys to adjust and learn their new roles.”
The move to 2A is the biggest change for the Chargers. The classification has been dominated by Riverside Academy in recent years.”
Josh Anderson and 6-6 Josh Leblanc are the top returnees for MPA.
Jones isn’t the only coach focused on evolving roles. U-High returns another LSU signee in 6-foot-6 Wayde Sims, who averaged 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game while netting Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year. The Cubs seek their third straight 3A title.
“When a group has been together this long, you would think their ability to improve would drop off, but it hasn’t,” UHS coach Joe Spencer said. “These guys keep doing it. Wayde improved his game inside and out. Jalen (Johnson) got better athletically, and John Jones (son of LSU coach Johnny Jones) is stronger and more confident.”
Senior Marshall Graves has settled into the point guard role and Mays younger brother, Spencer, is among the other players vying for playing time.”
Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample returns a talented nucleus led by sophomore Ja’Vonte Smart and two seniors, Jordan Adebutu and Garrick Green. Like the others, Sample said adjustments have to be made. Football quarterback Levi Lewis is among the guards expected to get more playing times.
“The last time I checked everybody had graduated,” Sample said. “We’re no special case. We need guys to come in and fill roles and for our guys who are coming back adapt to their new roles.”
Episcopal coach Chris Beckman Sr. graduated three key seniors from a team that advanced to the 2A semifinals. His son Chris Beckman Jr. and Kevin Tripeaux are EHS’ top returning players. The list of other top returning players includes Catholic’s Toliver Freeman and White Castle’s Jatyre Carter.
Others waiting in the wings include two Madison Prep players who move up from the junior varsity ranks — Kobe Julien and Jharon Whitfield. Scotlandville’s Jaylon Hawkins also looks to move up and so does U-High senior Robert Gardner.
Belaire gets the nod as one of the area’s most improved teams, which should make District 6-4A play with traditional power Plaquemine notable.
Harold Boudreaux moved from Brusly to take over 5-5A McKinley. Kirby Loupe, who previously led Port Allen to the Top 28, is the new Brusly coach.
There also are key changes in the 4-5A coaching ranks. Gary Duhe, who has 739 career wins, takes over at Live Oak after a two-year stint as the Louisiana High School Coaches Association director.
The biggest surprise came two weeks ago when Kenny Almond, who has 892 wins, stepped down after one season at Zachary. Assistant Jonathan McClinton is the new ZHS coach. Kevin Caballero, a former Redemptorist player previously at Sterlington, takes over at Denham Springs after the coaching retirement of Wynn Wingate.