BASKETBALL ROUNDUP: Early Longhorns closing in on third-place finish

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin

Eric Davis had built a playoff basketball program at Class 5A Frisco Independence and spent 15 years as a coach in the fast-growing Dallas suburb of Frisco through the 2019-2020 school year. So what’s he doing at Class 3A Early on the edge of West Texas?

“My oldest daughter graduated in Frisco, but we have two younger children, and we wanted them to grow up in a smaller town and go to a smaller school,” the 48-year-old Davis said. “I coached with (Early athletic director) Daniel Price at Frisco, and he called and asked if I still wanted to move to a smaller school.

“We want our younger kids (a fourth grader and a seventh grader) to be able to participate in different activities and not have to specialize in one thing like you have to at larger schools. We still keep in contact with our friends in Frisco, but Early is home to us now.”

The move also has been beneficial for the Early High School boys basketball team. After a fifth-place finish in district in Davis’s first year last season, the Longhorns are in line for the No. 3 playoff seed in District 8-3A behind state-ranked powers Peaster and Brock.

To secure the No. 3 seed, Early (21-10 overall, 8-4 in district) needs to win one of its two remaining games against Bangs and Comanche. Or fourth-place Dublin (7-5) needs to lose one of its two remaining games, including one against Brock.

“That was our goal, to get one of the top three seeds in our district this year,” Davis said. “We knew it would be a challenge, but we feel like we’re playing our best ball of the season right now.”

Early already has won two games this week. In a makeup game Monday at Eastland, Early won 66-56 as 6-foot-5 forward Vic Cooper scored 27 points, and guard Jeremy Brown added 23 points. On Tuesday, the Longhorns beat Dublin 59-49 as Cooper scored 18 points, guard Jaxyn Price added 16 points and forward John Hill scored 10 points.

Early's Vic Cooper leads the Longhorns, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.

While Cooper leads Early in scoring at 20 points per game and in rebounds at 12 per game, Davis said Early’s strength lies in its depth.

“We have nine varsity players, and they all contribute,” the coach and Amarillo native said. “They all know their roles, and they all accept their roles. There’s a lot of selflessness on our team.

“We have a junior, Kaleb Hoffman, and his job is to come in and rebound off the bench. When one of our starting guards, (junior) John-Stewart Gordon went down with an injury for a while, a senior, Korbin Barr, stepped up and took his spot. Gordon came back and eventually worked his way back into the lineup, and now, he and Korbin support each other.”

Cooper is another example of Early’s selfless style when opposing defense collapse on him in the paint.

“He kicks the ball out to an open teammate, and if he can’t do that, he fights through it,” Davis said of Cooper. “He gets fouled a lot, but he never complains. He gets beat up and keeps going. He opens up things for his teammates all the time.”

Even Jake Simpson, a senior who hasn’t played all season because of a football injury, has been selfless. “He can’t play, but he has been an encourager during practice and on the bench during games. He helps us coach a little and does anything he can to help the team,” Davis said.

Brown is Early’s point guard, and Price, although he can score, is a defensive stopper. Both are juniors along with Hill, a starter who provides scoring, rebounding and defense.

“John Hill went from being a player that wasn’t very assertive to having a lot of confidence in his game. He has some nice, crafty moves under the basket,” Davis said.

Sophomore Dalton Adams made a key 3-point shot Tuesday against Dublin, and sophomore Andrew Caten provides defense off the bench.

“A lot of our players play at least three sports and most of them are in advanced classes,” Davis said. “A lot of them are straight-A students. That pays off on the court with their discipline, their toughness and their reliability.”

Around the area

The Brownwood boys beat Stephenville 83-61 Tuesday to remain undefeated in District 6-4A at 22-7 overall and 6-0 in district. The Lions’ final two district games -- 7 p.m. Friday at home against Glen Rose and Tuesday at Lampasas -- are against their closest challengers for the 6-4A title.

Against Stephenville, guard Jakob Hataway scored 28 points, and guard Bryson Monroe and forward Luke Moss added 21 points each. The Lions pulled away with a 30-point third quarter.

The Brownwood girls will be the No. 4 playoff seed from District 6-4A after Tuesday’s 55-23 loss to No. 15-ranked Stephenville. Forward Tessa Goodwin 11 points for the Lady Lions, who finished the regular season 20-13 overall and 3-5 in district.

The Lady Lions will play Graham, the 1-seed from District 5-4A despite a 15-16 overall record, in bidistrict at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at Brock. Brownwood beat Graham 37-30 last month.

The District 29-2A girls race finished in a bizarre three-way tie among San Saba, Mason and Harper, who all finished 10-2. It was bizarre because none of the three teams that tied split their district games. San Saba swept Harper. Harper swept Mason. And Mason swept San Saba.

A series of flips Wednesday led to Mason being the No. 1 seed for next week’s playoffs, Harper the 2-seed and San Saba the 3-seed. This even though San Saba is ranked No. 15, Harper No. 16 and Mason No. 22 in the statewide rankings.

The Priddy girls, ranked No. 5 in Class 1A, finished 12-0 in district for the third consecutive season after receiving forfeit wins from Blanket and Mullin. The forfeits extended the Lady Pirates’ district win streak to 41 games, dating to a loss to Jonesboro during the 2018-2019 season. Priddy will face Rochelle in bidistrict at 7 p.m. Tuesday at San Saba.