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Junction City set to start season with new coach

by Jason Avery | November 15, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

With football officially wrapped up, Junction City is wasting no time in moving on to basketball.

The Dragons open the 2022-23 season tonight at Lake Village a couple of days after falling to Booneville in the 3A football playoffs.

It’s also the start of a busy week for Junction City, who has games against Crossett on Thursday and Lafayette County on Friday.

“I like to play, especially with this new group of guys,” said Junction City coach Xavier Diamond, who will be making his debut as the Dragons’ head coach. “They’re used to me as an assistant, but they’re not used to me as a head coach. There’s a few things I like to do differently than my predecessor. I’ve played with six at my former school at McGehee, so if I can play, I’m going to play.”

Junction City enters off a season that saw the Dragons win 26 games, capture the 8-2A title with a 15-1 record and reach the quarterfinals of the state tournament. The Dragons will have a to find a way to replace Ryan Allen’s production, but do have several returnees back from last year.

For Diamond, there are really no set positions for his players.

“I’m the type of coach that my guards need to be able to play the post and my posts need to be able to play as guards,” Diamond said. “When we transition, all five guys should be able to transition the ball, so there’s really not any set positions, it just depends on whose hot, what matchups I like that night. 

“I told them when learning plays and things of that nature, especially during the summer, I told them, ‘You’ve got to know all five spots. If you don’t know all five spots, you’re not an offensive threat for me.’ All five of my guys are interchangeable.”

Senior Decoreon Dubose, juniors Jakourian Key and Jay Carter and sophomore Taylen Owens highlight the brigade that’s making the quick transition from football to basketball along with their coach.

“It was kind of hard,” Diamond said. “It’s my first transition of trying to focus on football and basketball at the same time. It was a hard balance because I’m more of a hands-on type person. I’m not that guy that is going to give you a workout and not be in there.”

Diamond, who coaches the wide receivers and defensive backs in football, was able to get some work in with the basketball team during the summer.

“I have had no problems,” Diamond said. “We share athletes. Coach (David) Carpenter and I got our summer schedules together. I was able to do 7-on-7 football with my receivers and defensive backs, and I was able to do basketball camps with my basketball guys. We went to El Dorado a few times, we went to Farmerville (La.) a few times, we went to some other places, but it wasn’t a problem. We made sure the athletes had proper rest and we were able to share those athletes as best we could.”

Diamond said there were two areas that he believes will be strengths for the Dragons.

“Defense has always been my biggest tendency,” Diamond said. “Defense and transition. We’ll be able to score in transition, but especially with the shot clock in all classifications. We’ll be able to slow the ball down when necessary and actually be able to run the offense and be able play lights out on defense. That’s one of my pride and joys. We’re going to get after you on defense and we’re going to score the ball.”

Heading into the season, Diamond said inexperience was a concern.

“There are two guys that are going to have probably the most experience on the floor and that’s J Key and Taylen Owens,” Diamond said. 

“I’m thankful to coach (Kendall) Hutcheson. He allowed me to do the offense last year, so they’re used to what I’m accustomed to doing. They’re going to have the most experience on the court.”

The 8-2A has a new look with Bearden, Hampton and Lafayette County all dropping to 1A with Spring Hill moving to the 7-2A. Ouachita and Rison are the newcomers that join the league.

“The conference has kind of changed some,” Diamond said. “We got a few teams added. This conference is going to be unique because you will have competition and I’m not afraid of that. It was the same way at McGehee. We had competition every night. 

“I’m looking to see that we’re going to be battle-tested every night, especially with Fordyce and Woodlawn. Ouachita is our first conference game this year, so just going every night, we’re going to be tested.”

If the Dragons are to continue their success from a year ago, Diamond said his team must shoot the ball well.

“Transition to a better shooting team,” Diamond said. “Just being able to shoot the ball. I would love to be able to shoot it lights out. We’re going to hit a lot of drills with shooting and things of that nature. 

“Being able to win, keep a win and establish a win and push the clock when we need to. I’m not saying that I’m out there looking to embarrass any teams or coaches because they’re still respectable on the floor, but when we have a lead, I want to keep it.

“I want to be able to put in the guys that are not necessarily starters, but still be able to maintain the lead. We have got to have guys that come in and know what to do and what’s expected of them. One of the biggest things is just being able to do what’s asked of them.

“I’m not going to try and put that steering wheel in their back and control every aspect of the game, but at the same time when I see something, I need them to be able to see it too. I want to get them to the point to where they’re seeing it before I see it because they’re on the floor.”

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