Defending state champ Wildcats steeped in inexperienced youth

POPLARVILLE Richard Mathis enters his 20th season as head coach of Pearl River Community College Wildcat basketball with a team that returns only three players from last year MACJC state championship squad. But, he says, the inexperienced youth that is scattered up and down his roster is talented with plenty of potential. We seem to be better shooters this year than we were last, said Mathis, whose team opens its 2010-2011 season Monday at home at 6 p.m. against Southern Sports Academy out of Jackson. And we had some good people that could shoot the ball a year ago. Weve just got to continue to improve in all phases of the game and buy in to our way of doing things and well wind up a pretty good basketball team. Playing together as a unit is at the forefront, but if our new guys can learn to can guard, rebound, and defend at this level were going to be okay. Returning from last year 24-5 squad are 6-foot-7, 205-pound center Phillip Crawford out of Murphy High in Mobile, Ala., 6-foot-3, 205-pound forward Emil Jones of North Forrest High, and 6-foot-4, 195-pound forward LaKendrick Maye of Prentiss High. Those three played well for us last year and Phillip and Emil started the majority of the time, Mathis said. LaKendrick got some starting duty, but saw plenty of playing time. A fourth sophomore Pedro Maciel, a transfer from Centenary College in Shreveport, La., is a welcomed addition. Maciel, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard who prepped at St. Stanislaus, possesses excellent skills on the hardcourt. Probably Mathis top freshman recruit is 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard Daron Bell of Bay High, who was the MHSAA Class 4A Player of the Year last season. Daron has the talent to be a big-time player in our league, but hell go through an adjustment period, Mathis said. But he a very solid guy and were expecting big things from him. Other newcomers include freshmen 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward-center Jordan Contreras of Hattiesburg High; Vincent Gable, a 5-foot-6, 160-pound guard from Picayune High; 6-foot, 175-pound guard Bryant Harrell of West Marion High; 6-foot, 165-pound guard Adarrius Hunter of Petal High; 6-foot-3, 165-pound guard Calvin Johnson of Ridgeland High; 6-foot, 6-foot-5, 245-pound guard-forward Nick Magee of Columbia High, 170-pound guard Marshun McGee of Bailey High in Jackson; 5-foot-10, 180-pound guard LeBaron McMillian of Pascagoula High; 6-foot, 185-pound guard Mycheal Mills of Lumberton High; and 6-foot-9, 230-pound center Kentari Nettles of Murphy High in Mobile, Ala. Mathis lauded Gable solidity at the point position, while noting Johnson and McGeee show lots of promise. LaBaron is coming off knee surgery his senior year at Pascagoula, but he has shown us over the last two weeks that he is near full recovery, Mathis said. Mathis says the MACJC South Division is as loaded as ever. It pretty much that way every year, he said. Jones, Gulf Coast, and Hinds will be good again and I expect Co-Lin to be greatly improved. And from what I understand, East Central and Southwest had very good recruiting years. Itll be an interesting year. Mathis has won a total of seven MACJC state championships five at The River in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2004, and 2010 including a women title at East Mississippi in 1978 and a men championship at Northeast Mississippi in 1982. He boasts a 346-190 over the past 19 seasons at PRCC. The Wildcats also welcome a new member to his assistant coaching staff in Doug Branson who arrives at PRCC via Columbus State University (Ga.); while Jason Francis enters his sixth season with The River. PRCC women team opens its season when it joins the Wildcats for a road trip to Baton Rouge CC in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, Nov. 4 (5 p.m. women, 7 p.m. men). The River women and men home openers are set for Monday, Nov. 8, against Holmes at 5 p.m. (women) and 7 p.m. (men).

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