Dawgs’ hoops season begins this week

by Sean Dunlap

Months of behind-the-scenes grueling preparations and conditioning will now take center stage as Franklin County High School’s varsity basketball teams hit the court to fully launch their respective seasons this week.

“I don’t think there’s anybody more excited than I am to finally get this basketball season started,” said FCHS Head Basketball Coach Rickey Van O’Quinn.

“There’s a real sense of getting back to some kind of normal where the new basketball season is concerned after all the uncertainty we saw last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

O’Quinn said his programs will be a mix of familiar and new faces, and he has high expectations for what his Bulldogs can accomplish.

The Lady Bulldogs enter the 2021-2022 campaign after losing two senior players to graduation — TeKysa Thompson and Leniya Miller — and will be leaning on their returners and fresh faces to drive the program.

“Leniya was big on the defensive side and TeKysa was big on both sides while, many times, being our leading scorer,” O’Quinn said.

“In losing those girls, we’re looking for members of the team to step up, and I think they will.

“We had a great summer and off-season where the girls worked really hard. We needed that to help bring along the 10 or so sophomores and freshmen we have along with two seniors and four juniors.”

O’Quinn said he sees a lot of promise from his Lady Bulldogs, but noted the program still has a way to go before it reaches its fullest potential.

“In time, I think we’ll get there,” he said.

Among those leading the team is senior Ja’Sharreah Hunt, who O’Quinn described as being one of the best guards in Mississippi.

“Ja’Sharreah as a four-year starter is a real competitor who has been in some big games for us since her eighth grade year,” he noted.

“Joining her is another senior, Rylei Turner, a two-year starter who is a great leader and was a stand-out for us on defense last year.

“Rylei has taken on a leadership role for us in the off-season, and we’ll be looking for her to step up offensively this season.”

Junior Ja’Kya Brown, another returning starter, had a successful summer and made strides in the weight room.

“We’re expecting great things out of her and we’re going to put a lot on her,” O’Quinn said. “Niyla Wright is another junior in the lineup who opted out last year due to COVID-19, but knows what we expect and we’ll expect her to contribute as starting center.”

Other returning FC players include Arya Williams, Deasia Buie, Kennedy Washington, Shemara Stewart, Harmoni Porter and Saiyon Harris.

New faces on the varsity girls roster for this season include Zy’Kiyah Middleton, Deshara Hannon, Jailan Johnson, Amiya Byrd and Madison Sparkman.

The coach said the challenge for his girls program this season will be to perform at a higher level defensively.

“That’s because with so many young people on the roster, we won’t be where we need to be offensively right away,” O’Quinn added. “Defense will have to be our strong suit, and we’ll need to create turnovers and score off of that in the early going. I think we’ll struggle in the half-court early on due to our inexperience, but I think our guard play is going to be a strength for us ... we will be able to run and I think we will need to get some easy scoring opportunities.”

On the boys side, O’Quinn said he has some high expectations for the Bulldogs during their 2021-2022 campaign.

“We lost two seniors last year with one of those being a starter,” he noted. “That means we’re bringing a lot back to the lineup, and this is one of the hardest working teams I’ve had in a long time.

“The way they approached the off-season by practicing hard will hopefully translate to wins as we start the season.”

Among the leaders on the team will be Kobe Marshall and Caleibria McDonald — both who made the All-Star team last year as juniors along with Hunt from the girls’ program.

“All three of these players are also on the ‘seniors to watch’ list for this basketball season, and that says a lot about what they will bring to the game for Franklin County,” O’Quinn said.

“We also have a good corps of juniors, including Daylan Thomas, Michael Covington and Derrick Wilson along with sophomore Kentrez Bonds.”

O’Quinn said Thomas is a high-energy and highly motivated player and has grown to 6-6 1/2 in the off-season.

The one area of concern for the Bulldogs is their average size, the coach went on to say.

Others on the team roster for the season include Ladanian Pelt, Jailen Hunt, KePatrick Nimox, Iverson Hughes and Christian Goins.

“To be honest, we’re kind of small,” he said. “About the biggest guys we have are Thomas and Amarion Wilson, who is playing football right now.

“We’ve got to get out there and run, and score better than we have in the past. Offensively, I think our ability to run will be our primary strength for this program and feel like this is going to drive what we do to start the season.

“Defensively, we’re going to be at a little bit of a disadvantage at times because of that size issue. It’s going to take us a little bit of time to get where we want to be on defense.”

O’Quinn, who is assisted on the sidelines again this season by Jarvis Hunt and Ashley Weathersby, said FC’s hoops program has a highly competitive schedule.

“There are a lot of good teams on the schedule, and I fully expect there will be a lot of teams — especially in our district — that will be looking to knock us off as the season rolls along,” O’Quinn said.