It has to be taken into consideration that summer basketball is an entirely different animal from the regular high school season. Still, the Sterlington Panthers have to feel pretty good about themselves after scoring victories over some traditional Class 5A and 4A powerhouses.
Perhaps even more important, Panthers' guard Matt Allred returned to the lineup from knee surgery well ahead of schedule.
Finishing out the summer with a flourish, the Panthers upset West Monroe on Wednesday, June 27, at Fant-Ewing Coliseum to close out the ULM team camp. Earlier in the summer, the Panthers dropped a 28-point decision to the Rebels at West Monroe.
“Summer league has a different set of rules,” said Sterlington coach Kevin Caballero, “but it was a good way to end the summer.”
Playing against a beefed up schedule, which included the likes of Carroll, Richwood, Ouachita, Neville and Bastrop in addition to West Monroe, the Panthers struggled early. Besides playing without Allred, the Panthers had to adjust to the loss of center Jordan Crew to graduation.
“At the beginning, it didn't look good,” Caballero said. “We lost Jordan and we didn't have Matthew out there. We started off bigger and slower. We weren't as fast without Jordan running up and down the floor.”
Sterlington began to hit its stride at the Northwestern State University team camp, going 4-1 with victories over Class 5A Natchitoches Central, Bossier City Airline and Sulphur and 4A Archbishop Shaw, while losing to 5A Lake Charles Barbe.
Allred's return was a bonus as the senior-to-be guard was expected to miss the entire summer for the second straight year. He tore his right ACL against Lake Providence on Feb. 5, 2011 and tore his left ACL a year and two days later at Homer.
A starter since his eighth grade season, Allred was averaging 15.4 points per game at the time of his second injury.
Working diligently, he went from playing in two-minute spurts at the NSU team camp to eight-minute shifts at the ULM camp.
“I've never seen anybody rehab like Matthew has. He's way ahead of schedule,” Caballero said. “He gave the team so much energy. He makes such a difference; not just with his scoring, but handling the basketball and defensively. I couldn't have been happier that we had him for this much of the summer.
He wants to play so bad.”
Forward Brandon Douglas (17.5 points, 9.9 rebounds), guard Lance Richard (15.3 ppg) and point guard Derek Price (5 ppg, 7.5 assists) join Allred in a veteran starting lineup for next season. In addition, sixth man DeMarcus Matthews moved into the starting five after Allred went down.
One of the Panthers' priorities for the summer was to find some depth.
With Matthews missing several games due to an ankle injury, Rex Spencer and Jaylon Wade made the most of their opportunity to showcase their skills.
“Rex Spencer really played well this summer and so did Jaylon Wade,” Caballero said. “Rex is a perimeter player, but we moved him to the four so we could have him on the floor.”
Crew, who averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds as an undersized but overachieving 5-10 center, will be missed for his hustle and athleticism.
“We have to get Brandon some help on the defensive glass,” Caballero said. “We have our core back. We just have to replace Jordan, which isn't going to be easy.”
Shaking off an early-summer shooting slump, Richard came on strong down the stretch.
Price, meanwhile, had a solid summer.
Although the Panthers compiled a 26-5 record last season, the campaign ended on a sour note with a first-round playoff loss to Evangel. Next season, the goal is to go deep into the playoffs in rugged Class 2A.
ROAD TRIP: Caballero has planned an outing for the Panthers for Monday night.
Ben Sheets, a coach in the elementary basketball program who regularly attends varsity practices and games, signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves earlier this week. Making his first professional appearance since July 19, 2010, the four-time Major League All-Star allowed four runs on five hits, with six strikeouts and and one walk through five innings against the Jackson Generals on Wednesday night.
Sheets is scheduled to make his second start against the Birmingham Barons on Monday night at Trustmark Park in Brandon, Miss.
“Ben is always around helping us out,” Caballero said. “I know the guys would like to go watch him pitch.”