Gators optimistic for future

Published 7:55 am Tuesday, February 27, 2018

At midseason, it seemed like this could be a lost year for the Vicksburg Gators. They were floundering along with a 5-13 record and had lost nine out of 10 games. It was expected to be a rebuilding year after seven seniors had graduated, and those expectations seemed to be coming true.

The Gators, though, made their season’s story one of resilience. They won eight of their last 12 games to reach the second round of the Class 5A state tournament, where they lost 65-43 to Canton on Saturday night.

Vicksburg finished with a 13-17 record, but nine of those losses came to teams ranked in the Top 25 in Mississippi by

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Coach Kelvin Carter said the key to the turnaround came from continued hard work and his team gaining floor experience — as well as a strong belief in themselves.

“They know we work hard. We’ve always been a basketball-oriented school. We’re going to put the work in,” Carter said. “They even got a chance to work against those seven seniors last year, they battled against those guys every day, but they didn’t get game time, so game experience is a lot. You can practice all you want, but you have to work against an opponent and be able to judge and evaluate their skill set. That’s what we were able to do, and we just got better and better as the season progressed.”

Building the chemistry and individual growth that helped the Gators end the season on a quality run was something the team had focused on all year. A number of returning players were juniors and seniors, but few had seen significant playing time before this season.

“Taking it one step at a time, working on your offensive and defensive sets, just kind of working on jelling together as a team, and I think it’s really going to be important moving forward,” Carter said “The future looks oh so bright.”

For next season, Carter wants to see continued improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The Gators were 9-4 when giving up fewer than 60 points this season, but only 4-13 when giving up more than 60.

“When you play those good teams, you may be able to score a little bit, but you have to be able to stop the opposing team from scoring,” Carter said. “My main focus next year, moving forward, is on- and off-ball defense. We’re going to shoot, but we have to be able to stop somebody.

“We’re going to be long, we’re going to be 6-4, 6-5 with the exception of the point guard spot,” Carter continued. We’ll have big guards, we’ll have decent size inside, 6-5, 6-6, so my main thing is to emphasize defense.”

Next year the Gators will be without departing seniors Ke’Darrion Parson, Kamari English and Alonzo Blackmore, who Carter said gave it their all from start to finish. While their loss will sting, Vicksburg does return sharpshooting guards Jermiyah Brown and Cameron Butler, forward Darius Johnson, and their monster in the paint Jaymeson Norfort, along with a host of other contributors.

Johnson was the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game. Norfort only averaged 4.3 points, but blocked 3.2 shots per game. Parson led the team in scored at 12.5 points per game.

The Gators are also expecting big things from the current ninth-graders, who will be sophomores next season.

“I am feeling great about the guys we have coming back as well as the addition of those ninth-graders,” Carter said. “The ninth-graders have actually been practicing with us for about two or three months now, and there’s not a lot of separation from them. By the time we go through 30 games this summer, a couple of team camps, we’re going to probably be a force to be reckoned with in the 2018-2019 basketball season.”