BATON ROUGE – Central basketball coach Brian Hargroder wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he signed his team up for the Woodlawn High Summer League, but after a 54-30 win over Denham Springs in the Wildcats first game, he likes what he sees.
“We didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” Hargroder said of the league which features fast-paced six-minute quarters, no disqualifications for fouling out, and no one-and-one free throws. “I had no idea what it would be like, but it was good.”
After taking a 23-17 halftime lead, Central heated up from outside and made five of its eight 3-pointers in the second half. The Wildcats led 40-28 after three quarters and continued to build on their lead as Denham Springs substituted players in and out of its lineup.
“We’re going to play a lot of sophomores and it’s going to be a learning experience,” Denham Springs coach Kevin Caballero said. “I told coach Hargroder before the game, he played his sophomores last year and had some success. Maybe not as much as he’d have liked, but you can see what a year in his program will do.”
A trio of junior Wildcats led the way to victory. Rylen Walker made four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 18 points. Malik Hilliard worked in the paint, but also showed nice touch on his mid-range jumper before tallying 10 points. Juan Banks had eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“We put a big emphasis on ball movement so the shots we’re taking are really wide open,” said Hargroder, whose team finished 13-19 last season. “We don’t have to take many contested shots if our guys are moving the ball, and tonight our guys set each other up well.”
Denham Springs went 17-18 last season with a pair of senior leaders in Micah Banks and Xavier Miles. The starters from that team have graduated leaving one player, current senior C.J. Johnson, as the only returning player who has logged significant playing time.
Against Central, Johnson was the early catalyst, and scored 13 points before sitting out the fourth quarter while younger players saw action.
“He was a role player last year who played some good games. One of them was our game at Central,” Caballero said. “He’s going to have to toughen up because we’re going to depend on him a lot.”
In the first quarter, Walker made two 3-pointers and Banks had another to help Central take an 11-10 lead. Johnson scored seven points in the quarter.
The Yellow Jackets stayed close in the second quarter thanks to the play of Elijah Gilmore. He converted a three-point play, and then scored on a fast break to pull the Denham Springs within 19-17.
The Jackets missed their last three shots of the half while Central closed with a pair of driving baskets by Walker in the last minute to take a 23-17 lead.
Denham Springs was as close as 30-24 with three minutes left in the third quarter, but 3-pointers by Banks and Walker sparked a 10-4 Central surge. The Jackets were unable to get their deficit under 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“We took our lumps last year playing some young guys, and (coach Caballero) will do the same this year,” Hargroder said. “That’s just how it cycles. You just hope the kids stick with the process, and when they’re juniors and seniors they’re playing the way they should be playing.”