Diverse talents set Rebels apart from pack

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, March 18, 2014


LAPLACE — Ask Riverside coach Timmy Byrd what he likes best about his now  two-time defending champion Rebels team and he may give you a different answer each different day you ask. 

But the one thing that seems to tie all his answers together about this Rebel team is one simple truth: the pieces fit. Like a puzzle, they all join together perfectly to create a clear championship picture. 

Because while the Rebels clearly boast a roster overflowing with talent, that ‘fit’ is what makes everything work on the level it has. It’s why the Rebels have won repeat titles, 28 straight games and why, at times, Riverside has put away some of the state’s elite teams in a flash — witness its Jan. 22 home win over University Lab, an 85-55 victory that saw the Rebels lead 51-23 at the half. 

“One of the most respected coaches in our state told me that he felt the danger of this team,” said Byrd, “is that we’re the one team that has at least four guys capable of scoring 30 points a night.”

Von Julien, Malik Crowfield, Herb McGee and Jordan Andrews have all been core starters on two championship teams, and all will return next season — Julien, in fact, will be the only senior of the four. But while only one player can score at a time, everyone brings a different, valuable skill to the table that most can’t replicate.

Of the four, Crowfield stands as the most explosive scorer. The junior is one of the state’s most feared deep shooters and is capable of erupting at any time: his 21 point third quarter explosion against Parkview Baptist at January’s Allstate Sugar Bowl tournament gave a hint as to how he’d end his season, his 22 point first half critical in Riverside’s championship victory Saturday.

But what truly sets Crowfield apart, Byrd said, is his rebounding ability. A 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard, the junior ripped down 12 rebounds a game, his second straight season of double-digit boards. 

“Our ability to rebound as a team is why we can play small,” said Byrd. “He’s such a big part of that. When he’s rebounding like that, then you have Herb getting seven or eight, Von even looking for four or five at the point … when your guards rebound like that, it’s huge.”

Julien, last season’s Class 2A Player of the Year, leads Riverside’s attack from the point guard position. The Rebels push the ball and play at a frenetic pace, but with Julien in charge of the basketball, it’s controlled chaos: he’s averaged four assists to every turnover over the past two seasons and under two turnovers a contest. 

“He’s the engine that makes us go,” said Byrd, who has called Julien the state’s best point guard. “He’s got such a high basketball I.Q.”

Andrews is a lethal outside shooter who plays power forward, pulling a big out of the lane. He’s also a tremendous finisher on the break while starting many of those on his own: his four steals a game over the past two seasons is a big part of a ferocious Rebels defense.

“He makes timely shots,” said Byrd. “He brings a lot of energy and hustle and he’s pretty athletic. He gives us a really valuable dimension being able to play in the front court, shoot as well as he does and guard who he does.”

McGee, meanwhile, might best epitomize what Byrd truly loves about this team. McGee, a talented scorer in his own right – witness his nine 3-pointers in the aforementioned win over University – has sacrificed his offensive numbers to take on the role of Riverside’s defensive stopper. 

“He’s our enforcer, our stopper,” said Byrd. “Make no mistake, this guy is a great offensive player. He’s a true competitor and his heart is just huge. He does a lot of things that don’t get attention, but we know how valuable he is.”

They’re hardly alone. 

Center Deuce Wallace slid into Costanza’s starting role this season and brought a sweet outside shooting touch, allowing the Rebels to maintain their ‘five-out’ system. Joe Anderson brings rebounding muscle off the bench. Curtis Thomas, Darrion Cook and Jacorey Haynes often played together to fuel a second unit of swarming on-ball defenders, giving Byrd the confidence to press full-court with impunity. Jared Butler was the team’s top per minute scorer as an 8th grader, while fellow 8th grader Jalen Banks has shown a great deal of explosiveness and promise as well. 

Byrd stopped short of saying this is the best team he’s coached — Reserve Christian superstar Tweety Carter led his team to win three national tournaments, and that’s the measuring stick, Byrd said — but he said that this team will have a chance to lay the claim.

“This is the deepest team we’ve had,” said Byrd. “They’ll have a chance to prove how good they really are next season.”