JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville coach Brent Kelley reflected on last season, breaking down each loss of a 25-9 campaign. What struck the fourth-year Indians coach was that most of them — if not all — could’ve ended differently.
That being the case, Jacksonville entered this season believing it could be in every game once again and, perhaps, even take them all. And a funny thing has happened since the Indians first hit the court far back in November: their pursuit of perfection is still going strong.
With wins and confidence building together by the game, Jacksonville will carry a remarkable 29-0 record into tonight. And should this week’s Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll be the prime reference, the Indians are the only unbeaten team left in Class 4A.
Kelley and his players believed they could win them all, but basketball is a tricky sport in which the best team doesn’t always win, because the risk of having an off-night always looms.
“When we first started we sat down and made a goal and talked about how last year we had lost nine games and were in every game, and five of the nine losses were by 13 points total,” Kelley said. “I told them I expect the same thing. I said it’s a lofty goal, but I think we could win every game. When I said that I didn’t think we would be 29-0, but I knew with the guys we had coming back that we were looking at a good year if we could keep things together and do things right on the floor and off the floor.”
Tonight, Jacksonville (6-0 in district) will look to remain perfect in a District 16-4A clash against Corsicana (21-7, 3-3) at the JHS gymnasium. The matchup will continue a road the Indians have greatly enjoyed so far.
“We are enjoying it because we worked hard for this,” senior guard Londedric Taylor said. “Everything is going our way right now. We lost so close last year in (our losses) that I think we learned how to get over the little humps.”
With teamwork and full-court pressure their primary weapons, Jacksonville has secured lopsided victories throughout the run. But during the past week, the Indians were challenged to the wire by John Tyler and Whitehouse — and, of course, somehow escaped each time.
On Jan. 22 against John Tyler, the Indians trailed by 13 points in the third quarter and ended up prevailing 50-49. And last Friday, they triumphed 62-56 in OT after Whitehouse’s game-winning opportunity in regulation rimmed out.
And just like that, the pursuit of perfect remained intact.
“At the beginning of the year when (coach Kelley) said he expected to win every game on the schedule, we looked at him and laughed and were like ‘Are you serious?’” senior forward Kedarrius Buckingham said. “But when we got to the point when we were 12-0 and 15-0, we actually started to believe we could go undefeated.”
That collective confidence is partly reflected by the Indians being a close group of teammates instead of a star surrounded by complementary pieces. And that’s evidenced by their stats, which prior to Tuesday’s 48-21 win against Lindale showed the highest scorer — Dadrian Franklin — averaging 10.5 points a game.
The other stats leaders are Buckingham (6.48 rebounds) and Raybon Riden (1.93 steals and 4.2 assists).
The Indians, who reached the regional semifinals in 2011 with a different approach, have turned their attention to a fullcourt press that makes opponents struggle to simply reach midcourt. It’s even given athletic and good ball-movement squads such as John Tyler and Whitehouse trouble at times, so imagine what lesser opponents have gone through.
The pressure begins at the inbound pass and doesn’t end until either the ball is turned over or their opponent finally gets in position to shoot, which sometimes takes a tremendous effort to simply accomplish.
“It takes practice,” Taylor said. “We started our freshmen year and just got better and better. Now with it being our senior year, it comes naturally. And it helps, because if a team can’t handle the ball it makes it much easier.”
So much so, the Indians seniors are still pursuing perfection.
“It’s good to be undefeated as a senior,” Buckingham said. “We talked about as freshmen and sophomores that when it was our senior year we were going to try and go all out and win state. And, so far, we’re living our dream.”