Boys Preview: Patriots thinking Team Ego for 2018-19

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

STANFORD — The Lincoln County High School boys basketball team has been picked to finish second in the 12th Region in the annual high school basketball preseason poll by The Cats Pause.

The Patriots, who went 13-18 last season and were knocked out of the 45th District Tournament in the first round, earned the ranking despite not having an individual athlete rank in the top 10 in the region.

While Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson and his staff don’t put a lot of stock in polls, Jackson said The Cats Pause poll reinforces what the Patriots have emblazoned on their shirts.

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“Are we second in the region? I don’t know,” said the 16-year mentor. “But not having a single player in the top 10 in the region means that the coaches that voted on that feel like we’ve got a pretty good team. On the backs of our shirts we have Team Ego. We picked that up from Bill Russell from the (Boston) Celtics.”

“They asked him once if he had an ego and he said, ‘Yes, I’ve got a huge ego. It’s called Team Ego.’ He’s probably one of the greatest team players that has ever played the game. You don’t get all those rings on your fingers (11 NBA championships in 13-year playing career) by not being a team player. Our kids believe that they can have a really good team if they do things as a team.”

And Jackson believes, too.

“We feel like we’ve got nine kids that we’re comfortable as a staff having out there at any time and it could be somebody different every night to lead us. As long as we can keep that Team Ego part rolling and being happy for the success of everybody on our team that leads to wins, we have the chance by the end of the season to be pretty good,” he said.

There’s no lack of experience on the Patriot squad with 11 players returning from last year’s team, including four starters. The returning starters are seniors Blake Smith and Bryson Yaden, junior Riley Bodner and freshman Jaxon Smith. Blake Smith finished second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 13.5 points per game and shot 83.8 percent at the foul line, Yaden was third in rebounding with 3.7 per game, Bodner averaged 5.8 points per game and was second in rebounding, averaging 5.8 boards, and Jaxon Smith averaged 6.5 points per game and shot 73.8 percent at the line.

Those returning starters will be joined by seniors Darius Napier and Sawyer Carrier, junior Elijah Frye and sophomore Baylor Mattingly, who all provide significant varsity experience along with juniors Bryston Alcorn and Preston Durham and sophomore Rodney Alcorn.

“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back,” Jackson said. “We’ve got four seniors and we’re excited about their leadership, their toughness, their commitment, their experience. We’ve got a good nucleus of juniors, a good nucleus of sophomores and a good nucleus of freshmen. We’ve had good practices all along and we had a really good summer. I thought we got a lot better this summer. The kids have worked really hard this fall.”

The Patriot team was not complete until just about a week ago, when Yaden, Napier and Carrier were back in a basketball uniform, joining fellow senior Blake Smith after seeing their football season end in the state playoffs

“Blake did a great job working on his own leadership wise, but now we’ve got Bryson back up here now and we’ve got Darius and Sawyer,” said Jackson. “That gives us four seniors that we are counting on heavily to provide a lot of leadership and help define the culture of who we are.”

“Our football program had a great year and the corps of those kids that were seniors are now here with us. We’re excited about what they did down there and it’s carried up here. There’s a lot of excitement in our program and in our locker room right now. We’ve had spirited practices since they got back.”

When it comes to pinpointing players making significant strides in the preseason, Jackson throws out more than just a few names.

“Bryston Alcorn has really, really improved – and has grown,” he said. “He’s probably right at 6-1. He’s long and athletic and has had a really good summer and a great fall. Then, you’ve got Jaxon Smith, who’s just a freshman. He’s working hard and improving every day. Elijah and Baylor and, of course, Riley.”

Riley, who stands 6-7, will work the inside game with Carrier, at 6-5.

“Riley’s lost some weight. And Sawyer’s lost some weight. They both look great body wise and feel good about how they’re moving and how they’re performing and how they’re getting better,” said Jackson. “Conditioning is a big key with both of those kids being in great shape. We’re going to try to rotate both of them in and out. We’re going to try to play nine kids.”

Jackson wants to get Bodner and Carrier in top condition and to use nine kids because he wants to change Lincoln’s game.

“We’re going to try to press and run more than we what have in the past,” he said. “We’ve got some good athletes. We’ve got some kids that know how to play. We’ve got some kids that can shoot it. We’ve got good size inside with Sawyer and Riley. They’re both big kids and they’re both moving well.”

Getting back to The Cats Pause poll, just what are Jackson’s and the Patriots’ aspirations for the 2018-19 season?

“We’ve had great practices. Everybody’s in tune and very competitive. They’re excited about the opportunity to have a good season and we’re going to work as hard as we can to try to accomplish that for them and with them,” said Jackson.

And the postseason possibilities?

“We feel like we’ve got a chance to be very competitive in our district. We’ve got a chance to be very competitive in our region, if we’re fortunate enough to get to the region,” Jackson said. “Our district is by far the most competitive district in the region and if we’re fortunate to come out of it and get a chance to play in the regional tournament on our floor will be a big plus …. Expectations are high with these kids.”
With the new season just days away, Jackson says the team needs to focus on improving its defense and rebounding.

“We’ve got to get better defensively and we’ve got to do a better job rebounding the ball and guard better,” he said. “Offensively, we can do some things because we’ve got so many kids that can shoot the ball, and shoot it from way out there. If we want to play the way we want to play, it starts with being really good defensively and being able to rebound so you can run. We want to try to push the ball down the floor this year probably more than we have in quite a while because we’ve got some kids that can get up and down, we’ve got some kids that can shoot it and like to push the ball and get some kids open in transition for some 3’s. Have Riley and Sawyer diving hard down the middle. You’ve got to squeeze it or let them shoot a layup. If you do squeeze, we’ve got some shooters in the corners. We’re hoping to play fast, faster than we have probably since 2009.”

The Patriots open the season on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at home against Lafayette. Are they ready?

“I think so,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of experience back so that’s a plus. They know what to expect going into the game with Lafayette. They know about playing in front of big crowds and against quality competition. Our schedule is good. They are excited about who we’re playing and where we’re playing. They’ve kind of been through it and seen what it takes. Our chemistry right now is tremendous. They are pulling for each other and excited for each other. We’ve got a good vibe in our locker room and on the floor right now. It’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of. If that can continue and we continue to work hard and improve every day, hopefully, by the end of the season, we can have a really, really good basketball team.”

“We’re a work in progress but we’re pretty optimistic.”

But in the end, it’s all about team.

“We’ve kind of told them that there could be different players on the floor at the end every night. Who’s got the hot hand? Who’s playing hard? Who’s in foul trouble? Who’s guarding? If somebody’s got the hot hand, you don’t rotate just to rotate. You’ve got to go with who’s got the hot hand at that time,” said Jackson. “This summer it was different people just about every game or every other game. We had different guys stepping up and being productive. The refreshing thing about that was that when that went on this summer, everybody on the bench was cheering for them. It comes down to just trying to win as many games as we can. I think they all want to win. I think they are committed to winning. If we all stay together and don’t care who’s out there – and again, it could be somebody different every night – put team first, we have a chance to be pretty good before it’s all over.”