RESERVE — There’s something different about the Riverside Academy basketball team this season.
First, the obvious. The Rebels are no longer the All Get-Off-The-Bus team now that 6-foot-7 center Ricardo Gathers has graduated and gone off to play college ball at Baylor.
A formidable force on the Rebels’ team the past several years, Gathers was a two-time Mr. Basketball as he helped Riverside to win back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011.
But now he’s gone. Rebels coach Timmy Byrd said the tallest player on this year’s team is a measly 6-4. And, Byrd said, it’s rather difficult to distinguish one player from another on the court — at least skill-wise.
“I think that’s what makes our team so good,” Byrd said. “Everybody has a chance to score. Everybody can shoot the ball. We’re much more efficient on offense. We’re averaging more rebounds. Because all of our players are similar now, we’ve got high percentage shooters all over the court.”
The Rebels proved that last week, becoming the first Louisiana team to win the annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic. Riverside defeated Sheldon, Cal., 72-65, to take the title and perhaps quiet some of the doubters who said the Rebels will be spending this year rebuilding and trying to recover from their first unsuccessful quest for a state title. Riverside lost to district rival Curtis in last year’s final.
“This team is hungry,” Byrd said. “They feel like they have something to prove.”
“We have to win,” said guard Herb McGee. “And it’s not going to be about just one person this year. It’s going to be about the team.”
Byrd said this year’s team is much more like the old Reserve Christian teams, referring to the now-defunct powerhouse team Byrd led to seven state championships between 2002 and 2009 when the school closed.
After moving to neighboring Riverside, which had never been a basketball challenger, Byrd won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
At Reserve, Byrd won with this same simple four-guard offense. And although he saw a seemingly never-ending string of talented players, including the prolific Demond “Tweety” Carter, Byrd never had a true post player until Gathers came along. Now that the Gathers era is over, Byrd said he is back to his old ways.
Byrd is starting freshmen Malik Crowfield (6-3) and McGee (6-1), who was a standout wide receiver on the football team. Von Julien (6-1) and Jordan Andrews (6-3) represent the sophomore class, while 6-4 forward Corey Costanza is the lone senior. Off the bench are Deuce Wallace, Byrd’s nephew who quarterbacked the football team, and Timmy Perrilloux, who is a cousin of former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.
“It kind of reminds me of the year after Tweety, except it’s a team that is much more skilled and much more athletic,” Byrd said. “They’re very young though.”
And it’s a lot more fun, say the players.
“All five of us have a shot at winning the game,” said sophomore Charvon Julien. “Everybody gets to get their points in.”