BATON ROUGE - Midway through the third quarter of its summer league basketball game against St. Michael The Archangel, Central began to flash the determination and athleticism coach Brian Hargroder hopes will be the team’s trademark for the coming season.
Central had pressed the entire game but, trailing by nine points, the pressure finally became effective. The Wildcats forced seven turnovers before the end of the quarter as they pulled within three points.
An early fourth-quarter basket had the Wildcats within one point, but they never got over the final hump as St. Michael posted a 42-39 win in Central’s final game in the Woodlawn Summer Basketball League.
“We were actually pressing from the start, we just weren’t doing a very good job of it,” Hargroder said. “(Assistant) Coach Sid (Edwards) kind of lit a fire under them at the end of the first quarter, and we picked up the intensity a little bit. That’s our game.”
It’s a game that Central has gradually figured out works best for it during summer league play. The Wildcats have athletes with quickness and just enough size to create problems with its pressing defense.
And, if guard Destin Franklin gets on a hot streak like he did in the second half against St. Michael, the Wildcats are even more difficult to handle.
Not bad for a team that is breaking in a new lineup.
“We lost all five starters from last year so we’re a whole new team,” said Hargroder, who is in his third season at Central. “This summer was really about finding our identity, and I think we’ve done that. I’m very excited.”
Last season, Central started out 11-6 but lost its last nine games. Included in that stretch was a 0-6 mark in District 4-5A, a league that produced two state champions in Scotlandville and Walker.
The Wildcats are hopeful 2018 will be the year they return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The four-year playoff drought came on the heels of a run that featured eight playoff appearances in nine seasons.
All the more reason for Central to stress finding out what it does best over the summer.
Considering the Wildcats roster features nine football players, finding an identity was a must. All of the football players will complete that season before joining the basketball team.
“We won’t see (the football players) again until November,” Hargroder said. “It was very important for us to do what we did this summer and find out who we’re going to be.”
Against St. Michael, that identity included 13 points from Franklin and 10 from post player Jaylyn Murphy. Juan Banks, Jacoby Putman, Nah’Landry Stinson and Braxston Lee also got significant playing time.
Another player generating attention is 6-foot-10 sophomore Ethaniel Rizan, who Hargroder said will start next season playing with the junior varsity. Hargroder said he won’t rush Rizan’s development, but will give him chances to contribute for the varsity squad.
Franklin showed how dangerous he can be with a spurt at the end of the third quarter with three 3-pointers in final two minutes during a run by the Wildcats.
“He’s a senior and he’s probably got the most experience of anybody on the team,” Hargroder said. “When he’s shooting the ball well we’re a different team. “He’s been really unselfish the past couple of games, and when he’s unselfish he actually gets more shots. I think he’s starting to realize that.”
Murphy was an athletic presence inside, where he was able to draw fouls on the Warriors. The senior was 5-of-9 at the free throw line, and could have kept Central closer in the first half.
“(Murphy) is going to be at the line a whole lot this year, and he needs to make (free throws). He knows it,” Hargroder said.
If Murphy steps up at the free throw line and Franklin shoots well from the outside, Central may find the finishing kick it lacked last season.