It’s been a rough start on the hard court for the Greenwood High School varsity boys and Head Coach Donnie Husband, now in his fourth year with the program. Every fall the boys’ basketball team must wait for some of its key players to report for duty at the end of football season, usually in late November or early December.
As expected, it happened again this year with the gridiron Bulldogs reaching yet another state final on December 4th, losing to the El Dorado Wildcats, 27-17. But injuries suffered in that game by several Greenwood players have greatly hindered the basketball ‘Dogs from integrating their best athletes into the mix as quickly as hoped.
Quarterback Hunter Houston suffered a concussion at the end of the first half and was forced to miss a week of basketball practices. The team’s sixth man as a sophomore last year, and probably a starter this season, Houston has only recently been cleared for light workouts with no contact. He will make a difference when fully healthy and ready to go.
Also lost to a football injury was sophomore receiver L.J. Robins, who was last seen on the sideline on crutches. According to Coach Husband, Robins’ leg injury should heal within a month or so and allow him to join the basketball squad sometime early in the conference season in January. Robins was a key player for the freshman Bulldogs last season and is expected to help the varsity ‘Dogs as a sophomore.
Also, junior receiver Aiden Kennon and sophomore defensive back Landon Nelms were both bruised and battered and needed some time off last week to heal. Kennon started for Husband last season and Nelms is one of the team’s best overall athletes, according to his coach. Add to that a rash of seasonal illnesses, a Covid quarantine, minor basketball-related injuries, and numerous players unavailable due to ACT testing, and Coach Husband’s roster is still very much a work in progress, and lack of depth is a continuing issue. The numbers simply aren’t there to field his best squad.
Hopefully, that will change in the coming weeks before 5A West conference play begins on January 7th at Russellville. But in the meantime, the games go on, and the Bulldogs have played five times over the past two weeks, dropping all five outings. Yet, the GHS boys were competitive in every contest, despite playing with a greatly depleted roster.
On the last day of November, the GHS boys played their first home game of the season at H.B. Stewart Arena, hosting the Bulldogs of Springdale, a Class 6A school. The visiting ‘Dogs had a decided height and depth advantage, but Greenwood managed to hang with them until late in the game. Springdale eventually won the battle, 53-36.
Both teams scored 12 points in the opening quarter and Springdale led 20-17 at the break in a low scoring first half. But the visitors continued to pull ahead slightly in the third period, again outscoring the home team by three points to lead 36-30 as the game entered its final phase. Greenwood then closed the gap with a couple early fourth quarter baskets before Springdale pulled away for good over the last several minutes, padding their lead from the free throw line.
“They had a size advantage and depth advantage,” said Coach Husband. “But it was a four-point game with four minutes to go, then we hit a wall.” Offensively, senior guard Sam Forbus led the way for the GHS Bulldogs with a team-high 20 points, including four three-pointers. Fellow senior Jay Wright also scored eight points in the loss.
Last Thursday the Greenwood varsity boys traveled north to Pea Ridge for a three-day tournament featuring eight teams, eventually won by the Arkadelphia Badgers, one of the top teams in Class 4A. The still undermanned Bulldogs fell to the Badgers in their tournament opener, then also lost both games in the consolation bracket.
Arkadelphia dominated Greenwood in the opening two quarters, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-10 and 15-9, respectively, for a 36-19 halftime lead. But the ‘Dogs battled back in the second half, matching the Badgers point-for-point over the final 16 minutes. Both teams scored 13 points in the third stanza and 15 in the fourth quarter, giving Arkadelphia the 64-47 win.
Greenwood did get more balanced scoring against the Badgers, led by Sam Forbus with 16, senior Joe Russell with nine points, junior Dawson Holt with eight points, and Jay Wright with seven points.
eStem Charter School
Up next for Greenwood was a relatively new and little-known charter school from Little Rock. The Mets and ‘Dogs played to a draw after eight minutes last Friday, 13-all, before the eStem boys pulled ahead 23-17 at the intermission.
Forbus got in early foul trouble against the Mets, according to Husband, but Dawson Holt stepped up to help with the scoring. However, Greenwood still trailed 38-26 after three periods on their way to a ten-point loss, 45-35. Again, Sam Forbus led the Bulldogs offensively with 15 points, followed by Dawson Holt with 11.
The tournament finale for Greenwood pitted the GHS boys against another team whose mascot was quite familiar, the Earle Bulldogs. Earle High School is a small, rural campus located in Crittenden County about halfway between Wynne and West Memphis in Northeast Arkansas. Those Bulldogs play in Class 2A and defeated Greenwood in a close one, 53-49.
The GHS boys jumped out to an early lead, 16-12, after eight minutes, but trailed at the half, 26-24. Earle continued its rally in the third quarter, outscoring Greenwood 14-10 to hold a six-point advantage heading into the final period, 40-34. Coach Husband’s squad won that stanza, 15-13, but it wasn’t enough to stave off a fifth straight loss.
“We had our chances,” said the coach. “We missed a shot to cut it to one point with 20 seconds to go, I think. Josh [Ligon] and [Brady] Mackey both had to play a lot. Lance Marek played and had practiced just one time [since being] in quarantine for two weeks. [Footballers] Parker Gill and Peyton Presson both had to play quite a bit, and they’re just getting their [basketball] legs under them.”
Among the positives to come out of the tournament for Greenwood was more balanced scoring and the contribution of a few healthy football players. Forbus led the Bulldogs with 10 points, including a trio of three-pointers. He was followed by sophomore Josh Ligon with 11 points, sophomore Peyton Presson with six points, senior Lance Marek with five, while senior Parker Gill and sophomore Brady Mackey added four points each. Presson, Gill, and Mackey are all football players.
This past Tuesday the Bulldogs took the short drive to Fort Smith to take on their longtime rivals, the Southside Mavericks, and the game was typical of past contests between the two schools. Both teams scored 13 points in the opening period before the Mavs pulled ahead slightly at halftime, 26-23.
The Bulldogs narrowly outscored the home team in the third stanza, 12-11, and trailed by only two points as the game entered its final quarter, 37-35. But Southside padded its lead as the minutes ticked away, forcing Greenwood to take more chances on defense, creating more fouls and sending the Mavericks to the free throw line, ballooning the final margin of victory to 12 points, 56-44.
“The last two or three minutes we had to start fouling and [the game] kind of got away from us and made the score look a little less competitive,” explained Coach Husband. “I think [Southside’s] size hurt us a little bit. They had one kid that scored like 13 points in the second half. He got some stick backs, and they had a couple more kids that were not that tall, but were wide, thick [players]. Our inability to rebound and lack of execution towards the end [hurt us].
“We’re still trying to find the right combinations,” he continued. “Offensively we’re still a work in progress. The key to a good offense is flowing from one action to another action, and we’re just not there yet. It’s hard to beat anybody with only one double digit scorer (Forbus). We have some guys who are capable, we’re just not doing it yet, and that’s got to change.
“But I thought our defense was really good. We scrambled and played hard. We played both (man and zone) and did a pretty good job. I think we took five charges. Without a shot blocker, you’ve got to do that kind of stuff,” he added.
“We knew putting it all together was going to be tough, but with all the injuries it set us back a week. The team that played together last night [against Southside] practiced together twice, basically. But those are excuses. We had opportunities and we just didn’t get it done at the end,” said Husband.
Asked about the availability of Hunter Houston, the coach said, “He should be able to play Friday, if nothing goes wrong. Today will be the first day he can practice with no restrictions at all. Hunter’s a ‘glue guy’ if that makes sense. He can score and he has in the past. But he’s more of a facilitator. He can make things smoother. He can organize when chaos is around. Hopefully, he can gain some confidence and step up and not be afraid to take his shots. The biggest key for us over the next couple weeks is finding a rotation. We’re mixing younger guys and older guys who haven’t really played together, and that’s the challenge right now.”
Against the Mavericks, Sam Forbus led the Bulldogs with 19 points, including a trio of three-pointers, and was the only GHS player in double figures. Aiden Kennon scored seven points in his first live action of the season after football, and Jay Wright scored five points. Dawson Holt and Peyton Presson scored four points each and Joe Russell added three points.
Coach Husband attended the state championship game against El Dorado and sat helplessly as two of his best players (Houston and Robins) were helped off the field due to injuries. As for his reaction, the coach said, “It was tough. There’s no doubt about it. You’re hoping to get everybody [at practice] on Monday, healthy, and get started, but that wasn’t the case, so you adjust. You move forward and control what you can control. Aiden [Kennon] was beat up too and wasn’t able to practice last week, and Landon Nelms had a sore knee, so all those guys were out last week.
“Between that and three sprained ankles and one with the flu, we dealt with a lot of things last week. It just seems to be the prevailing trend. [Coach Young] had to deal with it (football injuries). Then we were down four more guys [last] Saturday for ACT tests. Fortunately, we got a couple of [injured players] back [recently] and Hunter is working his way through the [concussion] protocols and practiced yesterday (no contact). Aiden was able to get started yesterday, and they make us better right off the bat. It will probably be a month before L.J [is ready], but I think he will get back. He’s going to be fine.”
Asked about the Pea Ridge tournament, Husband said, “It was disappointing because we hoped to come out of there with some wins. But there were some positives. We went toe-to-toe with Arkadelphia for a big part of the game and they are projected to be a state championship contender in their classification. The other two were good teams and we had our chances but didn’t take advantage of them. But depth [and experience] plays a role. We were a little better Saturday and a little better yesterday [Sunday] in practice, so hopefully next week we’ll be closer. In all those games there were a ton of positive things. Hopefully we can get everybody back in practice and get some consistency moving forward.”
As for being ready for the league opener at Russellville, the coach added, “We’ve got two games this week and three practices and another game next week, then take a few days off before our Christmas tournament [at Beebe]. Those will all be positive things and I think we’ll be ready by January 7th, if we can just keep everybody healthy. Maybe L.J. will be healthy by then too. If not, then somebody else has to step up and do the job. I don’t think we can evaluate anything at this point until we get everybody on the practice floor at the same time.”