In general, high school basketball coaches prefer older, more experienced teams. University High and Reserve’s Riverside Academy are rare exceptions.
With U-High starting four freshmen and Riverside starting two sophomores and two freshmen there is no doubt youth will served in one of the top boys basketball games in the Baton Rouge area Friday night.
University (19-1) hosts Riverside (14-3) for a nondistrict game between two Class 2A foes at about 7:30 p.m.
“This is one of those things that works well for us,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “When East Baton Rouge Lab closed, we had a couple of open dates we had to fill and it so happened that Riverside had an open date to fill.
“We’re excited about the challenge. Riverside is young like us, but they have one of the top programs in any class. The thing that concerns me is they have five guys who can score the basketball. Most high school teams don’t have that.”
Followers of Class 2A basketball will be watching this one closely.
Riverside, winner of two of the past three 2A titles, won the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic tournament last week, a feat the school didn’t accomplish a year ago with an experienced roster led by current Baylor player Ricardo Gathers.
The Rebels’ losses are 4A Karr, 5A East St. John and 5A Scotlandville. U-High’s lone loss was to 3A Port Allen.
“I think most people believe these are the two best young teams in the state,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd said. “U-High starts four freshmen, but they are experienced beyond their years.
“The other thing that concerns me is their length. Most tall, young teams play a zone defense, but they play a man-to-man.
“Their length and a man-to-man defense will put a lot of pressure on us offensively. I think it’s a really good matchup.”
Wayde Sims, a 6-foot-5 freshman, leads U-High in scoring with 18.0 per game and also averages 9.5 rebounds. Freshman Jalen Johnson (6-4) adds 14.0 points, while senior Henry Shortess (5-8) is at 13.0 while D.J. White (6-4) is next at 12.5. Skylar Mays (6-0) is the Cubs’ freshman point guard.
Riverside is also led by a freshman, 6-3 Malik Crowfield, who averages 20.0 points. Sophomore point guard Charvon Julien (6-1) adds 16 points per game.
The Rebels’ tallest player, 6-5 senior Cory Costanza, contributes 10 points per game.
“They’re going to have a size advantage on us,” Byrd said. “Regardless of what happens, this will definitely be a game we can learn from.”
The Riverside-University game is not the only notable showdown. In District 6-4A, Istrouma (13-6, 4-0) hosts Tara (15-6, 3-0) in a matchup of the league’s unbeaten teams.
Tevin Walker scored a game-high 20 points for Istrouma in its 54-43 victory over Plaquemine on Tuesday night. Tara got balanced scoring in its 62-36 win over Broadmoor with Joshua Plane scoring 12 points, while Shaquille Reed and Lionel Russell each had 10 points.
League play in Districts 4-5A and 5-5A also begins Friday. Defending 5A state champion Scotlandville (18-1) hosts Denham Springs (5-13) in 4-5A, while East Ascension (18-2) hosts McKinley (7-9), last year’s 5A runner-up in 5-5A. Also, Dutchtown (15-4) travels to St. Amant (15-6) in 5-5A.
There’s also a key girls game to note in 4-5A. Denham Springs (14-4) hosts Scotlandville (14-3).