Eagles young but talented for 2000-01

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 1, 2000

RESERVE – For its first two seasons in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, Reserve Christian was the hunter, silently stalking its prey.

But after two trips to the Top 28 tournament in Lafayette, that prey is a bit more alert for the Eagles.

Making the hunt even harder for the Eagles as the 2000-01 season opens is that the majority of those teams that made those trips to the final four are gone now. Only one of the eight players who had the most playing time in the1999-2000 season returns. And that player, senior forward Matt McGee, isexpected to miss at least three more weeks with an ankle injury suffered during one of the team’s scrimmages. Other than McGee, only three otherplayers – Chris McClain, Matt Jackson and Kevin Phipps, logged considerable playing time last season.

With the loss of those seven other players, Reserve Christian lost the bulk of its scoring and rebounding from last season. McGee is the leading scorerback after averaging 9.0 points per game in 1999-2000. After him it’sMcClain, who tossed in 2.7 points a contest. Jackson, Justin Augillard andNathan Louque each averaged 1.3 points.With the inexperience, Reserve Christian struggled in its scrimmages against French Settlement and Hosanna. In the season opener the Eagles pulled out a62-48 victory despite being out-rebounded 40-35 and committing 24 turnovers.

But the Eagles do not figure to be down for long. While the team is young,with a seventh-grader and two eighth-graders playing varsity, that youth is talent. Add in senior forward Paul Labiche, who sat out last season aftertransferring from Riverside, and the Eagles figure to be back on track quicker than expected.

“We’re going to go through some growing pains the first two months,” Reserve Christian coach Timmy Byrd said. “But I’m excited about the youngtalent and this team.”Those first two months Byrd talked about include a schedule that will give the Eagles few breaks. In just the second game last Friday night ReserveChristian traveled to a Family Christian team that is one of the best in Class C. In the first month alone there are trips to Jehovah-Jireh and St. ThomasAquinas, the Parkview Baptist Tournament and the Ascension Catholic Tournament as well as a home game against Country Day.

December is not much easier, beginning with a trip to the E.D. WhiteTournament, followed by a home game against North Vermilion. Then comesgames at Parkview Baptist and defending Class 2A state champion West St.

John and the East Ascension Tournament. The month closes with visits tothe Country Day Tournament and the St. Thomas More Sunkist Shootout.”We have our work cut out for us,” Byrd said. “We want to play the toughestschedule we can play because it’s the best way for the team to get better.”District 12-B will again be a challenge with Phoenix getting better and Mt.

Hermon again being a tough place to play.

“District should be as a whole stronger than last year,” Byrd said.

The road to prepare for that schedule started over the summer. The teamwent to a camp in Tallahassee, Fla., and finished 11-1 and also did well at theUNO Tournament.

“We wanted to challenge the kids,” Byrd said. “If we make the playoffs, wewill be ready.”Once he returns from his injury McGee will lead the charge for the Eagles.

McGee worked with fitness guru Mackie Shilstone over the summer to improve his jumping ability.

“He’s the heart and soul of the team,” Byrd said of the 6-4 forward. “Hewas our go-to guy in summer competitions.”Labiche led the Eagles with 14 points and 13 rebounds in their season opener against Faith Christian. Byrd said he is expecting more things from the 6-4forward as the season goes on.

“Once the rust wears off we expect him to be a big contributor and be very productive,” Byrd said.

One of the most impressive players on the floor against Faith Christian was Jason Watkins, a 6-6 1/2 freshman center. Watkins had 13 points and ninerebounds in the game.

“He’s shown drastic improvement,” Byrd said. “He has a lot to learn, but hehas a good work ethic. He has a bright future ahead of him.”At the guards are McClain, a sophomore, and Phipps, a 5-8 senior.

“Chris is our most experienced guard coming back,” Byrd said. “He’s quickand plays real good defense.

“Kevin has been in the program a long time. He’s a good floor leader andshows real good leadership.”Backing up McClain and Phipps are 5-6 junior Marshall Williams and 6-1 eighth- grader Penny Brumfield. In the post is Jackson, a 6-4 sophomore. At theforwards are Augillard, a 6-2 sophomore, and Louque, a 6-0 junior. DemondCarter, a 5-6 seventh-grader, and Demarcus Branch, a 5-10 eighth-grader, will also see playing time.

Reserve Christian is coming off a season in which it went 37-9 and won the District 12-B championship. The Eagles advanced to the Class B semifinalsfor the second straight season, losing to Dubach. Byrd said the experience ofplaying in back-to-back Top 28 Tournaments has definitely helped the program, especially in terms of the expectations of the players coming in.

“They expect to win,” Byrd said. “Until three or four years ago we had tobuild a winning attitude. That is not a concern anymore. Most of our guyshave seen what it takes to get to the final four. They know what it takes,and they know the chemistry. They realize that the final four is not anunrealistic goal. They know what it takes and what it takes to win a statechampionship.”Byrd knows that with the youth and inexperience on this team, that the season will be a roller coaster one. But he is also looking forward to being thesilent hunter once again.

“My goal is for them to come together as a team and find the chemistry that they have to have to have some success,” Byrd said. “The key is going to befinding what this team does best. But I’m looking forward to the challenge. Ilike being in the underdog position.”

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