It’s state championship week in volleyball, and football is nearing the end of the regular season, and the playoffs will begin in less than three weeks. And now, add to the list, basketball is just around the corner! The Tigers annual Black / White preseason scrimmage game will be held next week at Tiger Center on Thursday, November 7. Yes folks, that’s right….basketball starts next week!
The Tigers finished 19-8 at the end of the 2018-19 season. Charleston made it to the Class 3A state tournament where they were defeated in the first round by a Mayflower team that made it to the state semi-finals.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Tigers head boys basketball coach, B.J. Ross, to discuss the upcoming Charleston basketball season. It didn’t take long to see that Coach Ross is very excited about the group of players he has returning for the upcoming season.
In our interview, Coach Ross talked about the players he has lost from last year’s team and those who will be returning. “We lost some really good seniors from last year. We bring back two starters, and losing those seniors will be hard to replace. Jacob Green, Blaine Rowand, Brayden Caudle, just people like that made a difference. Jacob was a really nice player. We are going to have to replace about 18 points a game. Blaine was about 12 points a game. Brayden Caudle handled the basketball and a lot of roll players with them. But, we bring back my son (Brayden Ross), he was our leading scorer, and he has been the last two years, all state, all state tournament team, sophomore and junior years, so he is kind of our center piece. We’ve got a neat group in my eyes. We’ve got small pieces to every part of the puzzle. I’m not saying we’re great players, but we’ve got good role players in perfect spots. Got a kid, tenth grader, last year, Trenton Goodson, he was a kid off the bench last year, I kind of consider him a starter coming back. I expect him to fill the Jacob Green spot of 16-18 points per game. He’s a basketball-only kid, we only have a few of those, so, he’s in here working everyday. He’s put on probably 15 pounds of muscle.”
“Brayden (Ross) is a senior, Geoffrey Scott, came off the bench for us, he was injured most of the year last year, but toward the end of the year he came off the bench and played some. He gave us really good effort. Shane Turner, great athlete, he’s where the ball is, rebounds, he’s not a shooter, but he just scores. We’re going to miss Tanner Jones, Connor Rowland, both with knee injuries from football. That hurts, depth-wise. We have, from seniors coming over (from football) Chance Sneathern, he’s going to be a nice little guard for us. Going to our juniors, we have Dalton Curtis, another football player, he’s going to be a shooter, will help us out, got a kid, Ransom Merechka, 10th grader, he’s just a play hard kid. He does everything you need for him to do. He’s one of those kids you love to coach. He’s really not ready yet to play much in high, but he is going to have to. Jordan Fenner is a unique type of deal. I coached his brother, Brandon, a few years back, he holds the state three-pointer record still, 433 made three’s in his career. Jordan is a different type player, he is about 6’3″, big, long, athletic. He moved away and then they moved back this year. So, he was a pleasant surprise. He came through the door and said we moved back. It has been like he has not lost a beat. Kids welcomed him back. He is going to be a huge addition for us. He’s really skilled. Really good around the basket. Really good passer, too. He’s long and lanky, wears a size 16 shoe, and he stretches his arms out and covers almost the entire lane. He’s going to be the deal that kind of spikes us up a little. We’ve had all the other pieces, and then when he filled in, it just helps my son (Brayden Ross) out because he has had to play the post his 10th and 11th grade years, and we couldn’t afford to play him out on the floor when we needed him in the post. That’s the thing I’ve been happiest about the most, he’s (Jordan Fenner) a good old team player, he does what he is supposed to do.”
When asked what it was like for Coach Ross to coach his son, Brayden, coach Ross said, “You know, we have had one bad night. And I will tell you, it was all my fault. It was in junior high. I coached him in junior high as well before I got out of junior high coaching. We had one bad night. We won the game, and his body language, I thought, was terrible. But it was me putting so much pressure on him. It (bad body language) wasn’t really what was happening, but in a dad’s eyes and a coach’s eyes, I was seeing things that really wasn’t going on. I just thought he had a bad attitude that night, but he wasn’t, after I went back and looked at the film. I was probably as mad that night as he was, and I took it out on him in the coaches’ office. When we got home, I’ll never forget, I was mad and frustrated. Didn’t know what to do. Brayden knew that it bothered me. So, he actually came and helped me out. So, that one bad night. Now, I get on him, but we have never had a bad night after a game since. My father always told me, when you leave the gym, leave it there. He coached his sons at Scranton.
Coach Ross has coached his so Brayden from Little League on up through high school. So now, neither Coach Ross or Brayden thinks anything about the father-coach-son-player relationship. And I think that is one thing that has helped. He’s pretty tough mentally. He also knows I’m dad, but I’m also coach, and I am coach first when we are on the court.” Brayden grew up as a “gym rat” under his dad’s influence. “Brayden grew up, in the gym, everyday, throwing a baseball, throwing a football, playing basketball. We would buy him trucks and cars (toys in his childhood) and he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in cars, trucks, action figures, Pokemon, any of that stuff. He wanted baseball gear, golf clubs, that’s all he wanted. Now, my little one (Ross’s youngest son), he’s in to everything. So, it’s neat. Coach May (Charleston football coach Ricky May) has really helped him playing football. Brayden never loved playing football. He played Little League football because we made him. And then, Brad Jones, who is our Little League director, Brad’s son Tanner and Brayden are friends, and he was coaching. He stayed with Brad from the second grade all the way to 6th grade. So, he just played because it was Brad. And then he wasn’t going to play as a sophomore, and then last year, he really didn’t want to. Bryaden told me that Coach May has made it fun. He really took to Coach May pretty quick. I think he and Coach May bonded pretty quick.”
Coach Ross knows that Charleston’s record may not show it at the start of the year, but he is preparing the team for February and March as the team goes into district and state tournaments. “Our record may not show early because our schedule is always tough. We play in the Coke Classic, so we get Fort Smith Northside, etc. in that tournament. We go to Lake Hamilton on a Friday night. We just go to hook it up, and if we win we win, and if we lose we lose. We’re playing for February and March. Our record as some point in time may not show how great we are, but I think we have a chance to be really good.”
Charleston’s conference includes Greenland, Mansfield, West Fork, Elkins, Lincoln. Next year, the conference will change with the Tigers going southwest and will include schools such as Cossatot River (Cove, AR) that is in extreme southwest Arkansas near Foreman and Texarkana on U.S. Highway 71. That will make late nights for the Tigers when they travel and play four game nights that will be well over two hours of traveling time from Charleston. Cossatot is approximately 25 minutes south of Mena. In such a scenario, the Tigers may have to leave Charleston at noon, for example on a Tuesday, to travel to Cossatot. After four games, ending around 9 p.m., the Tigers will not return home until after midnight. “One night a year, but it is not their (Cossatot’s) fault. We’re going to be good friends, and we will work with them if we have to adjust things to make it right (scheduling, game times, etc.)”
When asked who he thinks is the favorite for this year’s conference race, Coach Ross said, “Waldron brings everybody back. They graduated one, and has a good mix. They have a really good player, Peyton Brown, who is a nice player. We play in a pretty solid conference, and our football is reflecting that. Our football schedule reflects that. We are all pretty even. In basketball, Elkins brings back probably the best athlete. He is without a doubt the best athlete in the conference, a high riser, can do a lot of things. I am not going to cut us short. Every year you have to think we have a chance to win it. From the outside looking in, Cedarville has got a good sophomore, Daryl Kattich, who is their good running back, and he was the best freshman basketball player last year. Mansfield has most of their kids coming back from last year. So, really, our league, West Fork, they graduated quite a few. Greenland, this should be the best year they have had in a while, and you saw the athletes they had in football, so, it ought to be their best year.”
Make no doubt about it, Coach Ross does not discount his Tigers from playing in the state playoffs in March. He believes in playing a tough early schedule to prepare the team for a late season playoff push, as well as being tested and ready for state tournament play. Charleston has a championship pedigree, and their kids know how to win. I look for the Tigers to be a big factor in February as the teams begin to separate themselves going into the senior district tournament and eventually to the state tournament.
So, basketball fans, get ready! Your first game is next Thursday at Tiger Center! See you there!