POPLARVILLE — On the heels of the program’s 16th state championship and with a roster that’s getting more attention than a group of A-list actors walking around Hollywood, it would be easy for the Pearl River men’s basketball team to get lost in the hype and what’s ahead. Coach Chris Oney has spent the better part of the off season making sure that doesn’t happen.
“We don’t really look at expectations. We look at getting 2 percent better every day. That has been our motto from Day 1,” he said ahead of the team’s season opener Thursday against Delgado. “The future is going to be the future and we’re trying to live in the moment.
“Right now we’re 0-0 and until the end of the season we haven’t proven anything.”
During the team’s very first meeting, Oney talked with his players about goals. Outside of constantly being asked by people outside the program, the Wildcats haven’t — and won’t — mention those big picture aspirations.
“After that (meeting), it’s just 2 percent better every single day. I think if we stick to that model we won’t have to stay grounded, we can just stay in the moment,” he said. “We set goals for the end of the season, but we’re just going to pick our heads up at the end and see if we achieved those goals.”
With players ranging from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-8, Oney likes the kind of versatility he sees in his roster. He particularly likes their depth.
“We feel every guy on the roster can help us win. We have to incorporate a rotation for substituting to take advantage of that,” Oney said. “I told the guys in the first team meeting, ‘we’re going to play you as much as we can until you prove otherwise.’
“We think we can play everybody on our roster because we think everybody can help us win.”
The “problem,” if anyone can really call it that, of having a loaded bench is certainly welcomed by Oney and his staff.
“Last year teams tried to key in on Eric (Thornton Jr.- pictured) and keep him off certain spots on the floor,” Oney said. “This year, if you do that, we’ll hurt you.”
The 2018-19 Wildcats will feature a healthy blend of returners and newcomers. Leading the veterans are guards Thornton (Canton; Murrah), Cedric Brim Jr. (Tupelo; Shannon) and Jonas James III (Jackson; Murrah).
The trio led PRCC’s championship in scoring, averaging 19.1, 11.5 and 10.1 points respectively. Jonas led PRCC with 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals, with Thornton also leading the Wildcats in rebounds with 6.6 per contest.
Fellow returner Kirk Parker (Vicksburg) was second on the team in rebounds with 6.5 and will provide depth in the post this year. Fred Thompson (Biloxi) is also back after sitting out last year due to injury.
The newcomers are led by the likes of LSU transfer Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central), Langston Powell (Monroe, La.; West Monroe) and Chris Agbo (Los, Nigeria; Covenant Christian Academy).
“We went into last year counting on one or two guys to make sure they had the average to give us a chance to win. This year, I don’t think we’re counting on every guy to get their average every night,” Oney said. “I think everybody can step up and be ‘the guy’ on any given night, which makes it fun for us and challenging for the other team to have to defend us.”
Other newcomers include Kelvin Allen (Olive Branch), Ahmad Arrington (Biloxi), Jerrez Porter (Jackson; Clinton), Cameron Smith (Okolona) and Jvari Thigpen (Jackson; Callaway).
Tip-off in the men’s opener is set for 7:30 p.m.
With the exception of a handful of games, fans can watch the Wildcats on PRCCAthletics.com as well as listen to the action on WRJW 1320 AM (Picayune) or by downloading the WRJW app.
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