With South Arkansas Community College just months away from starting their second season, head coach Nate Davis is pleased with the progress of the program.
“We’ve definitely come a long ways,” Davis said. “When I picked things up, I had three girls, and with the low numbers, we had to cancel our season. All three of the girls returned and played. I think we started with 11 or 12 and ended up having eight. Those eight that we had that stuck throughout the process, especially in the spring when the season came, I can’t say enough good things about them for sticking all this out.
“We played 13 games this year, and I feel like we were competitive in 11 of those. I wanted to get that competitive juice flowing in them, and it worked out really well for us. Our conference is very good, men and women. I think the biggest transition that our women had to make was knowing that it wasn’t high school anymore, and that the competition level was that much better.
“In the first game against Arkansas Baptist on the road, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure how they were going to handle that. We were in a two-possession ballgame until the last four or five minutes. They scrapped and fought really hard this year. With the class that’s coming in, I feel like some of those games are going to flip in our favor. We’re going to get in that win column.”
Davis has made recruiting locally a priority.
“I am always going to look at anybody no matter where they’re at, but I want to stay close first,” Davis said. “I feel like over the years south Arkansas has kind of been overlooked in the aspect of having good basketball players to be honest.
“I feel like they’ve been there, and I want to give these kids an opportunity to not only further their education, but athletic careers as well. If I didn’t think they couldn’t play at this level, I wouldn’t extend these opportunities, but every kid that I’ve signed, I feel like they can be competitive at this level.”
The Stars landed Parkers Chapel’s Taylor Fortune and Strong’s Chrishunda Williams from Union County schools. Davis also signed Emerson’s Chasity Jones, Lexi Pyle and Addison McNiel, as well as Magnolia’s Keshunti Brantley from Columbia County schools.
The lone recruit not from a Union County or Columbia County school is Woodlawn’s Vanessa Vinson, who has the chance to make an immediate impact at the point guard position.
Fortune had a propensity for taking charges while at PC, and she also brings a solid offensive game.
Williams will join Fortune in the frontcourt, and Davis said the Strong standout can protect the basket and be a key factor in rebounding.
Brantley can play all over the floor and can impact the game on offense and defense.
Jones can score both inside and outside, Pyle brings plenty of versatility up front and McNiel can slide from shooting guard to small forward if necessary.
“We’re in a lot better situation this year than we were last year,” Davis said. “There was no AAU ball last year, and that’s where a lot of college coaches do their recruiting. We didn’t have that opportunity last year.”
Near the end of last season, players were able to bring in some family members to games, and with the team having a local fervor, that could have a big impact on attendance.
“With these local kids, they draw in family members,” Davis said. “We were able to get in some family members and friends in the gym. Everybody was, ‘Coach, can I have another ticket?’ It wasn’t enough for them and that’s understandable. I really, really feel strongly going forward with the local class for the men’s and women’s side. That gymnasium should be packed next year if COVID restrictions are loosened.”
Although the Stars went winless in their first season, Davis believes the experience from last year coupled with the ingredients he has added during the offseason can turn things around.
“I think they know what it takes now, and I told them from the beginning that when we get in there and practice, it takes more than just that time out allotted with them,” Davis said. “It’s kind of like going to a classroom and not going home and studying for that test. If you don’t prep for that outside of that time you’re in the classroom, the odds of you passing that test aren’t going to be very good.
“Early on, we just kind of went through those motions of thinking that just practice time was enough, and I feel like now that they have the understanding that if they want to start winning those games that they were competitive in, they’re going to have to do more than what they put forth in the gym starting next season.
“If they put forth the time and effort that is required, they’ll start seeing some of those wins. I think that really didn’t sit right with them this year, obviously not winning a game, but being competitive enough to know they’re that close to being there. They just have to do a little bit more. Everyone is doing OK with doing what they’re comfortable with, it’s the fact we have to do things that we’re uncomfortable in doing, and that’s extra work in order to turn that page.”