In a time when so many things in our world seem to matter so much more than sports, the Paris basketball program traveled to Charleston to play senior high girls and boys basketball games on Tuesday night. Both programs were resuming their conference seasons following a long holiday break that saw very little activity or games played by either school in over two weeks. And for this reporter, it was the first time I had returned to Tiger Center to cover a basketball game since the final state semi-final game was played in Charleston for the 2020 state basketball playoffs. I was struck by how different everything seemed since that last day in late February.
Both Paris and Charleston are proud programs that are coached by very good coaching staffs. Both staffs are attempting to navigate their ways through player injuries, quarantines, and a host of other issues that all Arkansas coaches have had to address this year due to the COVID pandemic. The Charleston Lady Tigers, who were hit very hard by the graduation of an extremely talented team last year, dressed just seven players for their game with the Lady Eagles. The Paris Lady Eagles were missing one player due to COVID quarantine, and the boys program was missing a player as well. But just as I have observed all year in other sports, our high school coaches are doing a phenomenal job of keeping their teams together, protecting their health, and at the same time putting a very good product on the floor with respect to the quality of play.
But Tuesday night belonged to Charleston as both the senior boys and senior girls teams recorded double-digit wins over Paris. Charleston girls coach Jason Rucker, and boys coach B.J. Ross were very pleased with their teams’ efforts, especially in light of not knowing how their teams were going to respond after the long layoff.
Charleston Lady Tigers coach Jason Rucker commented, “By far our most complete game. I thought we pushed the ball better in transition and really moved the ball better as a whole tonight.” The hallmark of Coach Rucker’s teams has always been very tough, pressure defense, and a relentless fast break offense that is constantly looking to push the ball up the floor and create easy scoring opportunities. Although the team graduated a talented senior class last season, several of this year’s teams played significant minutes last year, and Charleston is once again poised to make a playoff run in January and early February. The Lady Tigers are exceptionally well-coached by Jason Rucker, and you can never count his teams out of contention. If the Lady Tigers continue to improve, look for Charleston to be a force in both the district and regional post-season tournaments.
And much in the same fashion as the girls game, it was the Charleston Tigers, a young and talented team, overcoming a tight first quarter to move on and defeat the Paris Eagles. Charleston coach B.J. Ross said after the game, “I was really proud of our guys. We started out extremely flat offensively as it was our first game since December 11, but our defense and rebounding kept us in the game. We are very inexperienced as a team but we play so hard that we make up for some things we are lacking in as a team. I was proud of the way we came out in the third quarter and changed the game.”
For the Paris boys, that has been an issue for the team since early December. After a fast start to the season, the team has struggled and is starting to collect several double-digit losses. And the season will not get any easier for Paris. The Eagles go on the road next Tuesday to play one of the early favorites in the conference, Cedarville, in a gymnasium that is very difficult to play in for visiting teams. After Tuesday’s game in Charleston, boys coach Blain Brewington, not pleased with his team continuing to lose their focus during games, commented, “We played well in the first quarter. Lost our focus after that. We have to continue to grow and focus for four quarters. I feel we have not put a whole game together this season. Lost our composure offensively when we were not making shots and that led to us doing things on the defensive end that hurt us. We have to continue to show up and work everyday. We can’t hang our heads.”
The Paris Lady Eagles were clearly bothered by the tough pressure defense of Charleston. Playing without Akira Robinson, the Lady Eagles had difficulty taking care of the basketball and finding a source of scoring on the floor. The girls, just like the boys team, must find a solution to their problems and get them fixed in a hurry or the Lady Eagles will struggle to earn a relatively high seed for the district post-season tournament. Paris is expected to get Robinson back next week, so the chemistry issues that could be a factor have to be addressed. In short, Paris has to develop short-term memory and put Tuesday night in their rear view mirrors and focus on the next game which is now the most important game of the year for both teams.
So, just as I started this story, COVID continues to be the wild card for all teams as the season moves along. And it has caused a schedule change for this Friday, as there will not be a senior boys game with Cossatot River on Friday night. That game is a conference game and will be made up on January 28 in Paris at 5 p.m. This could be to Paris’s advantage as they will have additional practice time before they travel to Cedarville next week. Friday’s home schedule for Paris will be a junior girls at 5:30 p.m. and the senior girls will play immediately afterwards. There will be no boys games played in Paris on Friday.
Charleston, after a big conference double-header sweep on Tuesday, will play Friday at Waldron. First game at the Waldron Multi-purpose building will begin at 6 p.m. This should be a great showdown for both schools as the games will have a significant impact on the early conference standings. I look for the Charleston boys and girls to make a strong January run through their conference schedules.
So as we all pause to think about the events of the day in our nation’s capitol, take a moment to think about all that is good in our country and give thanks that our children can play the games that they love. Thanks to them and all of the coaches for giving us a momentary break from all of the bad news in our nation to watch them play.
Fans from both schools can view / download additional pictures from the games on Facebook at Paris Eagles Sports.
Stay safe out there, and I look forward to seeing you at the gymnasiums across the area to celebrate our kids and our communities.