The Blytheville Chickasaws open the 2012-13 basketball season on the road Thursday night against the Broad Street High School Jaguars of Shelby, Miss. The Chicks are coming off a disappointing 2011-12 campaign, finishing with a 14-14 record overall and 6-8 in the 5A-East and missing the playoffs for the first time in since 2009.
Blytheville, like Gosnell and Armorel, is under new leadership this season. Magnolia native and former Ashdown coach Jeff Flanigan takes over the reigns, replacing long time head coach, David Hixson.
"It's been a very easy transition," said Flanigan. "Everyone has bent over backwards. My family has been very well received."
Like Hixson, Flanigan is preaching hard- nosed defense to his squad but in a different style.
"We're going to press nearly 95 percent of the time," he said. "We're going to play a lot of man-to-man in the half court set."
|Flanigan said this will negate any size disadvantage the team may have against opponents.||In order to play a full-court press style of defense, the players obviously have to be well conditioned. This fall, Flanigan had a six-week boot camp style of training for his players. Players concentrated strictly on conditioning and concentration through extreme circumstances.|
"I'm impressed in how these kids have bought into this," he said. "We've got a lot of kids willing to work hard and that says a lot. We're a lot further along than than other teams I've had."
Offensively, Flanigan said the Chicks will look to run a motion style offense that he learned in his days working as an assistant to coach Joe Foley at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.
"He (Foley) was the master," said Flanigan. "I owe a lot of what I know to him."
Running Flanigan's high pressure defense and offense will be senior and team tri-captain and point guard Damion Wilson. Flanigan said he's got a number of kids who can hit the outside shot and Wilson is at the top of the list.
"He's just a smart player who can knock down the open shot," said Flanigan.
Norderres McKillion will be another senior guard in coach Flanigan's system. McKillion is a left hander which Flanigan said will assist him getting his shot off from the outside and the inside.
"He's great at finishing off his shot and getting to the rim," said Flanigan.
Helping out at the guard positions are seniors Shaquile Smith, Johnae Guyton and Marquez Selvy.
Smith played a lot of minutes coming off the bench last season while Guyton and Selvy are new to the varsity ranks.
Juniors D'Marques Evans and Darius Furlow will get a bulk of the minutes at the forward positions. Evans got some good experience towards the end of last season and Furlow is a transfer from Gosnell.
Flanigan said Evans is high energy and has "defensive firepower."
"He'll do anything you ask of him," said Flanigan.
Helping out Evans and Furlow are T.J. Coleman and Floyd Bolden. Flanigan says that both are undersized for their position but make up for it with their hard nosed approach.
Also getting some time in the forward position will be senior Jerrod Knowles.
The man in the middle is Larry Bolden. Bolden, a junior, picked up some huge minutes last season coming off the bench to relieve Greg McKillion. Bolden's skills don't keep him strictly underneath the basket, said Flanigan.
"He can step out and hit the outside shot," he said.
Flanigan said that right now the tempo his team is playing at and their commitment to defense are their strengths while lack of size would be their most obvious weakness.
As for the rest of the 5A-East, Flanigan is more than aware of the hard nosed style of play in the conference.
"I keep up with a lot of basketball just in general. Coach Hixson and coach (Bill) Tyer have been a great resource for me."
Tyer returns for his eighth year as assistant. Forrest City and Wynne will return athletic teams as they have in recent years. Greene Count Tech, Beebe and Nettleton are always well prepared and Batesville can never be overlooked. It's the matchup with Paragould that has grown interesting in recent years especially after the Rams swept the season series last.
But this year there will be an added twist with Paragould's hiring of Ben Lindsey.
"We're both Magnolia boys," said Flanigan. "I learned a lot from his father, coach Marvin Lindsey. It's going to be special playing them twice a year. I'm a little older than Ben but I remember when Ben was a little kid. I know his team will be well prepared."
While Coach Flanigan is well aware of his 5A-East opponents, he said his focus right now is on the Chickasaws.
"Right now, my focus in on our team," he said. "My purpose has been making sure I know what I have. I can't guarantee wins and losses but I can guarantee effort. Our team will represent Blytheville to the best of our abilities. We want to give the city a team they can be proud of and continue the tradition of winning that came before me."
The Chicks tip off against Broad Street at 5:30 p.m.