Dragons looking ahead to future

Junction City certainly had its ups and downs during the 2022-23 season, but with a freshman class that debuted during the postseason along with a solid core of returnees, the Dragons have much to look forward to.

“I would say well, but it wasn’t up to my expectations,” Junction City coach Xavier Diamond said of the Dragons’ season that ended with an 18-17 record. “With the adversity that we had to face, I think we did pretty fair.”

What stood out to Diamond, who just finished his first year at the helm of the program, was the tenacity his team showed.

“The non-quit of the ones that stayed with us,” Diamond said. “I think we started off with 12. We had a few dismissals from the team, and we ended up going into the regular season with eight guys and having to play some games with six guys.

“Just having ninth-graders in my ear telling me they were ready to move up and offer what they could for the varsity team, but me contemplating the idea of not taking away the junior high season just to fulfill the high school season.

“Just the players not quitting and giving it all they could while they were on the court at practice. That will not to quit, I can work with that.”

When asked what his goals were for the offseason, Diamond said he had one.

“To be in the gym. That’s the only way to develop a team and develop a program, allowing the gym to be available and just being in there, being able to work out, play games,” Diamond said. “I’m encouraging the kids to do the same thing, just letting them know that the gym is going to be open.

“It’s going to be open to current players and any former player that ever came through Junction City. Just to be able to get my guys in the gym and start to create the habit of playing basketball. I want to develop better shooters and ball-handlers and just having that feeling of wanting to be in the gym all the time.”

During the summer, players will be focusing on the upcoming football season, and Diamond said there is a fine line that must be balanced in order to make sure the players get enough rest while also being able to accomplish offseason goals.

“Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Those five P’s always have been a segment of my life,” Diamond said. 

“Knowing with what I’ve got to do with football and knowing what I’ve got to do with basketball, most of the time I’m sharing the same athletes, so I don’t want to burn them out over the summer. It’s more so less coaching and more teaching. With the teaching aspect, you can make it fun when it comes to basketball just so they won’t get burned out.

“You’ve got to do more so of the hands-on coaching when it comes to football because it’s the immediate season that’s next, but just trying to balance it out scheduling-wise, and that will be next to one of the biggest headaches is just trying to make sure everything works out where students are getting rest, not only that, but you’re also getting the best out of them for football and basketball.”

Diamond said he would like to attend a few camps, but added other options could be available as well.

“Arkansas has a number of games that you can play during the summer,” Diamond said. “Ideally, I want to do two camps in June and two camps in July. If you do three games in each camp, it’s almost like a season within itself. I know we had a few camps last year that I would like to return to.

“I used to go to a league at Episcopal in Little Rock, but I think that’s kind of far for us to travel twice a week. That was a good, challenging league, so if I can find something like that, I will absolutely do that. I will at least try to get the minimum of probably 18 to 20 games in this summer.”

With an All-State selection in Jakourian Key returning, as well as Lamontra Hankton and Taylen Owens also back, the Dragons have a veteran core, but the soon-to-be-sophomores that debuted in Junction City’s run to the state tournament will play a critical role next year, and Diamond said he wants them to get in the weight room.

“That’s why I’m pushing them, especially to weightlifting,” Diamond said. “Any sport that you play, you need weights in your life, so I’m pushing them to be on those weights. I’m hoping some of them will have a substantial growth spurt during the summer. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jakorey Larry can do. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Cedric Jackson can do. Shakenya Malone didn’t move up, but he is going to be a good part of our freshman crew that’s coming in for next year. 

“Dakorey Larry is going to be a big part. If one of my eighth-grade guards has the summer I think he’s going to have, Zamundrae Gray, I might move him up as a ninth-grader.”