Teams set for postseason

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2012



RESERVE – East St. John coach Yussef Jasmine has always talked about his team with great confidence. And the results speak for themselves.

Jasmine’s five seasons with the team have yielded three district championships, including the only undefeated district title in the history of the school and the only outright district crowns.

But his confidence has never been confused with satisfaction. No matter what expectations were placed upon his Wildcats in the preseason, Jasmine always chased discussions of those achievements with this: Yes, it was a goal, but not the ultimate goal. Jasmine’s eye has always been on a state championship.

As Monday night’s bi-district playoff game with John Ehret looms, his Wildcats enter the postseason with a different feel to them. In years past under Jasmine, the Wildcats would take their lumps over and up-and-down predistrict schedule, get hot in district and enter the postseason as a dark horse contender.

But now, East St. John is nobody’s dark horse. The Wildcats (23-6) have been a staple in the Class 5A Top 10 LSWA poll all season and enter the postseason as the No. 5 seed. They blistered through the same kind of rugged predistrict schedule as usual and emerged once again from district play as champions.

John Ehret, the No. 28 seed, is a familiar opponent – the teams are district rivals. East St. John topped Ehret by six on the road on Jan. 24, 55-49. In the rematch, the Wildcats trounced Ehret, 68-34, in what was the final game of the regular season for ESJ.

In that second game, the Patriots (15-9, 4-6) were without their head coach, Al Collins, who missed the game due to illness.

Jasmine expects the Patriots to be that much more prepared with Collins back on the sideline.

“I have great respect for him,” said Jasmine. “He’s probably seen us play 12 times. He’s constantly working, trying to prepare his team. He puts them in great position to succeed.”

Jasmine also pointed out that Ehret brings a big team to Reserve, even at guard, where he says Ehret has a size and strength advantage.

But make no mistake: Jasmine likes his team’s chances, even if the old cliché says that it’s hard to beat a team three times. One reason is guard Joseph Williams, who leads ESJ in scoring with 14.6 points per game. Another big part of that confidence has been the emergence of center Elex Carter as a two-way standout.

Standing at 6-foot-7 inches, Carter has been an elite shot blocker throughout his tenure with the Wildcats and this year is no different: he averages 5.7 blocks a game to go along with 10.3 rebounds.

But he’s averaging a career high 10.6 points a game, a number Jasmine points out has inflated more so since district play began. The light, he said, has flipped in for Carter offensively. And defensively, he remains a terror.

“He’s not just a tall kid. He’s a really good shot blocker,” said Jasmine. “He changes shots constantly. And when our guards play the way they do, up, in your face … they pressure you to play faster than you want. And when you rush your drive and rush your shot, there he is to get the ball. He’s been scoring between 10 and 14 all through district too, and when we can dump it in and play inside out, it makes it easier for our guards offensively too.”

FERRIDAY AT RIVERSIDE — Riverside vaulted from No. 7 to No. 2 in power points after the final two games of its regular season, not hard to imagine when considering the Rebels knocked off two teams that were at the time ranked at the top of their respective classifications in the LSWA poll: John Curtis and St. Augustine.

It’s the first time in the three-year Timmy Byrd era at Riverside that the Rebels will not enter the postseason as the top seed — Curtis holds that distinction. Outside of matchup semantics, however, it shouldn’t matter as the two teams will operate at opposite ends of the bracket and can’t meet until the Class 2A state championship game, which will be held in Monroe.

After suffering something of a midseason hangover after traveling the nation — Riverside played in games or tournaments in Arkansas, Florida, Oregon and Massachusetts this season — and overcoming the game one season-ending ACL injury to Tulane signee Louis Dabney, the Rebels have found their stride, winning five straight to finish the season.

A senior-laden Riverside (29-9) team has found big contributions from its youngest players, with an eighth-grade class headlined by six-foot-nine-inch center Khalea Turner and sweet shooting guard Malik Crowfield among those making a consistent impact on the court and in the box score over the team’s most recent games.

After looking at the 2A bracket, Coach Byrd said that he sees some turbulent days ahead on the road to the state title game.

“I think there will be some major upsets in 2A, and I hope we’re not one of them,” he said. “There are some very strong teams in this field, and that’s even when you get down to the lower teams at 25, 26 …Evangel’s there, for example.”

Evangel has been to the Top 28 tournament in each of the past two seasons, eliminated by Riverside in the semifinals and then the final.

As far as Ferriday (10-12, 2-8) goes, Byrd said that the Rebels will play no differently than usual.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to play a lot of guys and play up tempo. We’ve got plenty of capable guys to wear them down.”

Byrd said that he would learn Friday (after presstime) exactly when the playoff matchup would take place; it is likely to be on Monday night.

LASALLE AT WEST ST. JOHN — This is a tentative matchup, as the power point rankings had changed since first coming out this week, said West St. John coach Lester Smith.

The Rams are currently slated to be the eighth seed and look to end up facing No. 25 LaSalle (5-16, 0-8), but West St. John was ranked a bit higher in the first run, which would have resulted in a date with Sacred Heart. Smith said that the Rams have spent practice time preparing for both the 2-3 zone defense of LaSalle and Sacred Heart’s 2-1-2 press.

But in either case, the game is slated to be played at 6 p.m. Monday at West St. John. And in that game, the Rams will be riding a tidal surge of momentum, coasting in on a school record 16-game winning streak and after setting its best ever regular season mark of 23-4.

The Rams’ backcourt is one of the most productive and explosive of any classification, led by junior Jaylyn Gordon and eighth grader Maya Trench.

Gordon averages 20.9 points per game while Trench adds 16.5 a contest, and both are also willing and capable passers.

Smith said that he believes his players are handling the added expectations of a potential run to the girls’ top 28, which would be the first in the history of West St. John, a program that won its first playoff games with one in each of 2009 and 2010.

“After we won district, they understood that there’s something else out there,” said Smith. “We’re not satisfied with the undefeated district record. We’re five wins away from where we want to be.”쇓