Riverside Academy’s ‘core 4’ wrap up memorable run

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Riverside’s Von Julien, right, goes for a steal   during the Class 2A championship game Saturday. (Submitted by Carrie Turnbull)

Riverside’s Von Julien, right, goes for a steal during the Class 2A championship game Saturday. (Submitted by Carrie Turnbull)

RESERVE — While Saturday’s Class 2A boys basketball state championship victory was the fifth in the past six years for Riverside Academy, it carried added significance: it was the last time the Rebels’ vaunted core of Von Julien, Jordan Andrews, Herb McGee and Malik Crowfield would step on the basketball court as a unit.

Timmy Byrd has coached a number of talented players over the course of his career — 12 championships vividly illustrate that tale — but this is a group that will stay near and dear to his heart, undoubtedly. Those four players were the leaders of Riverside’s 2012-13 state championship, forming along with then-senior Cory Costanza one of the youngest starting lineups to ever fuel a state championship run, with Crowfield and McGee then freshmen and Andrews and Julien sophomores.

Sometimes, cores do form together at a young age, and followers of a program can watch those players grow together until they hit a wonderful peak. In this case, the four players began as champions and continued to grow into something greater from there.

In this case, they led a Riverside team that was the first under Byrd to go undefeated in the state of Louisiana, winning all 27 of its games against local competition. The Rebels were 8-0 against teams that advanced to the state semifinals or finals, including wins over 5A champion Scotlandville, 4A champion Landry-Walker and 3A champion University High. Riverside was 5-0 against finalists in Class 5A, 4A and 3A.

“These guys have seen it all,” Byrd said. “They’ve been through a lot of wars.”

Andrews and Julien recalled forming a bond as freshmen, when the two were bench sparkplugs for Riverside’s 2011-12 state runner-up to John Curtis.

“Von’s been my point guard since then,” Andrews said. “After that Malik and Herb got here, and these guys have been great teammates … They’re my brothers.”

Added Julien, “Jordan and I formed a bond. We were best friends … we each just had that common bond, a winner’s mentality. Herb and Malik have the same. We go out there and try to outdo one another.  If Herb does a windmill (dunk), I’m going to try to do one better next time down.”

Andrews was named the MVP of the Class 2A title game this season, following in the footsteps of Crowfield and Costanza, who won in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Crowfield is the reigning Class 2A player of the year, while Julien held that crown a year earlier. It’s likely a Rebel will win that honor again this season, perhaps McGee or Andrews, something Byrd says speaks to his team’s unselfishness.

“They’re the most unselfish team around,” he said. “When one wins MVP, people look at all four of them. They could let it cause problems, or listen to people in their ear, but the bottom line is all of these guys have won MVP trophies, be it at state, or at different tournaments, or for Player of the Year. They’re happy for one another.”

Added Julien, “When someone makes a big play, the rest of us are cheering them on.”

The sharing extended to the postgame press conference. When Crowfield was asked about his emotions after fouling out in the third quarter, he said he knew his teammates would pick him up. When McGee was asked about his defense on Lakeview point guard Tay Hardy, the Gators’ leading scorer, McGee quickly extended credit to Julien, who teamed with him to aggressively trap and force Hardy from his comfort zone.

This team will go down as one of Byrd’s very best due to its diverse skill set. Riverside, most known for its 3-point shooting ability, beat a strong state finalist by 25 Saturday despite shooting just 4 for 19 from long range. Repeatedly, the Rebels have shut contending teams down defensively for entire quarters, and despite sometimes playing five guards at a given time, they routinely win the rebounding battle —  it was 36 Rebel rebounds to 32 for the Gators Saturday.  Opposing zone defense leads to a barrage of 3-pointers.

Opposing man defense leads to a relentless, unstoppable attack of the basket. Its big players can guard small and its small players can guard big.

“You don’t know which one is going to kill you,” Byrd said. “You know one is, and (an opponent) just hope(s) they all don’t.”

While basking in victory, Julien, one of the few prep players who can boast four championship rings — he won one as a key reserve as an 8th grader — took time to reflect.

“We’ll definitely miss it,” he said. “We may never have something like this again ahead of us. It’s special.”