“New” senior sparks winning start for Cavs

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lakeland’s boys basketball squad managed a winning record, 13-9, last season, but expected better with six seniors on the team. The Cavaliers had reached the Eastern Region tournament each of the previous three years prior to missing it last year thanks to Oscar Smith beating Lakeland in the first round of the district tournament.

So after an opening victory, and a decisive 82-65 win, over Oscar Smith to start the 2008-09 season on Tuesday night in Chesapeake, Lakeland’s head coach probably would be content the next day at practice. Then again, like most coaches, James Jones was already looking ahead to the rest of the long season.

“We won, but we’ve already seen plenty of things on film,” said Jones.

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The one thing even Jones couldn’t find something to nitpick about was the opening night performance from senior guard David Barnes, who put up 34 points on the Tigers.

Barnes missed all of last season. He missed the first part of the season because of academic ineligibility. Then in Barnes’ first game back, a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Barnes, a 5-foot-8 guard, joins senior guards Tony Smith, Jr., Justin Watson and C.J. Grissom as the leaders for the Cavaliers.

“The way people play us, they know about Justin and Tony,” said Jones. “They were our top two scorers through the summer and fall leagues.

Jones, area coaches and Barnes’ teammates knew what he could bring to Lakeland’s team when he got the chance.

“We appreciate David’s talent. We’ve seen him do these things,” said Jones. “We knew we have something special when he scored 28 points on Booker T. Washington in the second half (of a summer league game).”

Scoring and playmaking from Lakeland’s guards carried the Cavs through their opener, and will do so for much of the season. In the post, the Cavaliers are looking for new players to step up after the graduation of long-time contributors such as Voyland Cooke, Rontrell Parker, Kris Brown and Mario Hunter.

The one player Jones is already relying on is a big find from the Cavalier football team. Justin Key, at 6-foot-1, but 275 pounds, is giving Jones a presence he needs in the lane.

“He’s very athletic for his size. He really gives us what we need, which mainly is 12-15 rebounds a game. He’s 3-for-3 so far doing that for us,” said Jones, counting two preseason scrimmages as well as the win over Oscar Smith.

With losing six seniors, there might be some ways in which the Cavaliers are trying to play catch up as the season starts, but according to Jones, this team is ahead of schedule in a couple very good ways.

“The roles on this team are much clearer,” said Jones.

“Whatever the team needs from me, that’s what a guy is going to try to do. The guys are putting the team in front of individual aspirations. Because of that, we’re pretty far along right now.

Going a step further from that attitude, and certainly with his depth and experience at the guard positions, Jones said his playing rotations are developed to a point which most coaches and teams don’t get to until “mid-January or even later.”

Then, perhaps remembering the film session from the game played less than 24 hours before, “so maybe we’re a little further along, but there’s still a lot of basketball to teach and fundamentals to work on,” said Jones.