Donnie Husband is in his second season as Bulldogs’ head basketball coach, and it hasn’t been an easy gig. Hired out of Oklahoma to revive a struggling varsity program, the ball hasn’t exactly bounced his way so far. But that doesn’t mean things can’t or won’t change in the future, and it begins with a strong junior high program.
Asked about the state of the ninth-grade program, Husband was upbeat in his assessment. “I feel like they’ve played pretty [well]. They struggle with consistency like all junior high kids do, but they play incredibly hard and really get after it. They’re a fun bunch to watch. They’ve had some games where they’ve really played well.
“The key [question] is, ‘Are they going to stay in the program?’ We had a good junior high team last year and a lot of the top tier players decided not to play [varsity], and that’s got to change. We’ve got to keep them playing. It’s got to be something they want to do. We’re doing everything we can,” he added.
“Coach Hindman and Coach Pearcy are doing a great job, so I’m excited,” said Husband, referring to junior high Head Coach Jake Hindman and his assistant, Dexter Pearcy.
Hindman sat for a brief interview last week and talked about his four junior high teams from grades seven to nine. He also confirmed something Coach Husband had revealed, that five eighth graders are currently playing with the ninth grade.
“We felt like size-wise and skill-wise we needed them for depth. They’ve made practices better,” said Husband. “We bumped up five eighth graders and they give us a lot of depth,” echoed Hindman.
“This is my fourth year,” he added. “We are 8-4 right now and 3-2 in conference. In my opinion, we’ve played two of the toughest teams [Ft. Smith Chaffin and Kimmons]. We had a two-point game with Chaffin and we were right there with Kimmons until late in the third quarter,” describing his team’s two league losses.
The Junior Bulldogs also won last Thursday over Van Buren, improving to 9-4 overall and 4-2 in River Valley Conference play pending the outcome of this week’s games.
“I think the culture has definitely changed,” said Hindman. “The guys expect to win now. We finished strong last year, and the momentum has carried over into this year. The kids are excited.”
The coach was asked to identify some of the key players on this year’s ninth grade team, both offensively and defensively, and he was ready with quick answers.
“The good thing about this group is there are several guys who can go off and score 10 to 15 points or more any given night. Peyton Presson is an eighth grader and is probably our most consistent big scorer. Luke Haynes does a good job. He’s a good athlete who makes plays. Aiden Kennon and Dawson Holt can also score,” he said.
“Hunter Houston is probably our most solid defensive guy. He’s a very smart young man and he’s like having a coach on the floor.” Houston also played quarterback for the ninth-grade football team.
As for rebounders, “Peyton Presson and Josh Ligon want the ball and they go get it. They’re hardnosed kids who compete on every possession. Luke Haynes can also rebound when he wants to.”
Hindman also mentioned several players who provide depth off the bench every game. “Brady Mackey, L.J. Robbins, and Braden Skaggs come in and give us good minutes and rest for the starters. And sometimes they produce a lot more than just giving guys a breather,” said the coach.
Returning to the central question of keeping players in the system when they reach the varsity level, Hindman said, “They can be successful in junior high, but if they don’t play in high school, it hurts [the program]. We’ve talked about it a lot. We’re trying the best we can, and hopefully that will persuade them to keep playing.”
Hindman finished his remarks by talking about his seventh and eighth grade teams, which are also doing very well this season. They have only three combined losses between them.
“The big thing with the eighth-grade group is they’ve played a lot of basketball. Somebody has taken the time to work with them and it helps us out a lot as coaches,” he acknowledged.
“The eighth grade is undefeated in conference and has only lost a couple of games, one of those in overtime. They’re competitive in every game,” he said.
“We have two seventh grade teams, white and blue. They are extremely athletic and we’re very excited about them. They’ve lost one game total between them.”