Deep and talented Eagles shooting for greatness

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Sports Editor

You’d think coaching a fine basketball team would almost be old hat to Timmy Byrd, the Reserve Christian basketball coach who has overseen six championship squads in the past seven seasons.

But when you talk to Byrd these days, it doesn’t take long for this much to become clear: he’s excited about the 2008 Eagles — very excited.

And he doesn’t mince words in regards to his expectations.

“I think it’s going to be like the Tweety Carter days,” says Byrd. “This is a team that’s going to be exciting to watch, and I think it’s one that will bring in a lot of fans to see them. We have a lot of guys who play above the rim.”

When Byrd invokes the name of Carter, the former RCS megastar and current Baylor Bear, people tend to listen.

Yes, senior leader and Class C Player of the Year Eddren McCain has moved on to Bradley to continue his career. Fellow senior starter Matt Cali has also graduated. And last year’s eighth grade phenom, Lucas Martin, transferred to East St. John over the summer.

But Byrd sees a team that could be even better than that championship squad. And his players concur.

“We really want to go undefeated,” said the Eagles’ Chris Roussell.

One major reason for the optimism is the team’s newfound size. Two years ago, the Eagles did not have a single starter over six feet tall.

Not so this season. Each starter is 6’ or taller, and a number of players off the bench can boast the same.

Cedric Jenkins (6’2) and Chris Roussell (6’3) each return, and are joined by 6’5 junior Ed Gallina, 6’6 freshman Ricardo Gathers, 6’2 freshman Louis Dabney, and 6’3 sophomore Derek Taylor, who transferred after starting for Class 4A champion Helen Cox a season ago — not to mention returning starter Kyle McClue (6’1), who is currently nursing an ankle injury.

“We’ve got a lot of size at guard. Our bigs are long,” said Byrd. “Our 6’2 players play like they’re 6’5, and our 6’5 players play like they’re 6’8.”

The team’s depth is another huge plus. Through three games, seven Eagles have already scored in double figures.

Byrd feels this squad is the deepest he’s ever coached at Reserve.

“I feel like anyone in our top eight can score 25 points on a given night,” he says. “The closest team depth-wise was the 2003-2004 team with Tweety which was fairly deep. This one is deeper.”

His players concur.

“This is the most talented we’ve been in while,” said Cedric Jenkins, the sweet-shooting guard voted MVP of last season’s championship game.

It’s something Byrd says will allow him to be more flexible on defense.

“We’ve had to play a great deal of zone in the last two years,” he said. “We had to shorten the game, since we couldn’t afford to be in foul trouble. This allows us to put a lot of pressure on other teams.”

The results are showing already. Reserve has routinely held opposing teams to single digit quarters — even single basket quarters — through their 3-0 start to the year. They’ve allowed 43, 29, and 21 points in each respective game.

The team is young, however. Roussell and Ashton Torres are the Eagles’ only two seniors. Jenkins says that even with so many young players on the team, he feels he’s helping to lead a veteran group.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” he says. “But they’re a lot more mature than most young guys.”

Added Roussell: “They do everything we need them to do. They aren’t clowning around at practice. That sets them apart.”

Any clowning around at practice would likely have a player find himself in Byrd’s doghouse fast. The depth of the team allows for much more competitive scrimmages in practice — those who stand out, obviously, will see their game day time increased.

“Every day is a war,” Byrd says. “We’re able to give our guys looks in practice we really couldn’t last season. We want these kinds of practices so that when the games come around, they’ll be no big deal to our guys.”

Reserve will play well over 30 games this season — not including the playoffs. And there are some heavy hitters on that schedule — Christian Life, Helen Cox, Rummel, and Country Day to name four. Going undefeated will be an incredibly tough task.

But if Reserve falls short of that goal, it won’t be for a lack of ability.

“Talent wise,” Byrd says, “There’s not a team on our schedule that we can’t beat.”