River hoops tips off Monday

            POPLARVILLE --- Pearl River Community College tips off its women and men’s 2013-2014 basketball seasons Monday with high expectations for both squads.
            The reigning MACJC state champ Wildcat squad entertains the William Carey Junior Varsity Crusaders at 6:30 p.m. here in Shivers Gymnasium, while the Lady Wildcats travel to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi for a 7:15 p.m. match up.
            Richard Mathis, who is entering his 22nd year as head coach of the men’s program, saw his Wildcats win a seventh state championship a year ago since he arrived on the River campus in 1991, but says it will be a long, tough road to repeat.
            “We had a pretty good basketball team last year and I can’t say that we’ll be as good as we were a year ago,” Mathis said. “But we’ll be a competitive bunch and we have a good blend of returning sophomores and talented freshman on board.
            “For one thing, we aren’t nearly as big as we were last season, but I feel like we’ll be a better shooting team,” he continued. “We just have to develop our own identity and play to our strengths and play away from our weaknesses.
            “That takes time.”
            Mathis returns five players from his state champ unit in point guard DeAngelo Coleman, guards Devontae Foye and Jeremy Hollimon, guard-forward Rakeem Esco, and forward Kaven Bernard, while forward Quintarius Porter transferred to PRCC after playing at Southwest Mississippi as a freshman.
            “DeAngelo and Jeremy both proved they could shoot when they were freshmen,” Mathis said. “Devontae has the talent and ability to guard anybody…he just does a little bit of it all.
            “Kaven was a part time start a year ago and even though he’s a little undersized for a post player, he’s a very hard worker. He’s spent many hours working on his perimeter shot and should develop into a solid scorer for us,” he continued. “Rakeem had excellent quickness and athleticism and has the ability to push the ball down court quickly and is a solid defender.”
            Mathis recruited Porter out of Forest Hill High two years ago, but the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder opted to sign with SMCC-
            “We were well aware of his basketball skills when he was in high school and when he became available, we jumped on him. Quintarius will be great addition to our team.”
            Mathis says freshman guard Irishma Bowie out of Morton High is the team’s best perimeter shooter and “has the ability to get hot and break a game wide open.”
            Assistant coach Chris Oney returns for his third season, while Mathis lauded new assistant Shane Maynard.
            “Chris has proven to be a great recruiter and game coach,” he said. “Shane has some experience at a prep school, but has proven invaluable with his individual workouts. He relates to the players and the players relate to him.
            “This year’s team has been fun to work with and have a great work ethic and attitude. When it’s all said and done, we’ll have a team the school will be proud of and a fun team to watch.”
            Bush, who enters his sixth season as the women’s head coach, failed to make the post season last year with 8-12 overall and 4-8 South Division marks. But three talented sophomores return from that squad, complimented by two transfers.
            Bush has two third-year sophomores in forward Shanta’ Echols and point guard Kalisha Washington, while guard Courtney Osler returns. That trio is complimented by transfers Taylor Brister (East Central CC) and Deandra Darjean (Prairie View A&M).
            Echols is coming off an ACL injury that saw her miss the entire 2012-2013 season, while Washington suffered the identical injury two years ago.
            “Shanta’ is the same Shanta’,” Bush said. “She’s still got her explosiveness and ability to play inside. Even though she’s not back to the level she was when she suffered her injury, she’ll get there.
            “Kalisha got back in prime form after the Christmas break a year ago, while Courtney is an excellent shooter…probably the best pure shooter we have on the team,” he continued. “Courtney also suffered and ACL tear right before the holiday break last season and is steadily improving.”
            Bush said Brister and Darjean have shown excellent leadership skills.
            Peter Georgian joins the Lady Wildcat staff as assistant coach after Mary Bolton took a leave of absence. Georgian boasts 30 years of coaching experience, including a stint as Pearl River’s men’s coach prior to Mathis’ arrival on campus.
            “We couldn’t have made a better selection in getting Pete,” Bush said. “He’s a great recruiter and connects well with the players and knows the Xs and Os as well as anybody.”
            Bush says his unit will be an athletic bunch with the ability to score.
            “We’re goings to be much better than last year,” he said. “With so many new players on board, it’s a struggle to get everybody on the same page, but our practices have been encouraging and we’ve got high expectations.”

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