Carie Kuehn/Clinton Herald

Clinton High School Head Coach Chris Powers (far right) speaks about the upcoming season Friday afternoon at the MAC Boy’s Basketball Luncheon at the River Center in Davenport while a few of his athletes stand behind him.

DAVENPORT — For the second year, the Davenport Noon Optimist Club hosted the Mississippi Athletic Conference Boy’s Basketball Luncheon to kick off the basketball season.

“It’s cool to get together and they do a good job putting it on,” Clinton Coach Chris Powers said. “You get to catch up with some of the coaches and see some of the players. Here it’s nice to catch up and tell some stories.

“There are some who go up there pretty straight laced and some go up there and shoot the breeze a little bit. It makes it interesting and fun.”

It’s an event filled with food, jokes and conversation. All of it is centered around the return of basketball to the area. Coaches bring select players and give a short speech about the upcoming season. It all started with last year’s MAC champions, the Bettendorf Bulldogs.

“We lost 82% of our scoring from last year and 86% of our rebound,” Bettendorf Coach Kevin Skillett said. Bettendorf went 18-6 last year, but lost 10 seniors. They are one of the few teams coming in without veteran playing experience. “That’s not something you can just open the door and replace by no means. The group that I have, they are outstanding young men and very driven.

“This is a real veteran group in the MAC this year. We do lack experience, but we hope to close that gap at some point in time.”

Clinton is another team with a younger team, looking to make a splash in the competitive conference.

“We only have three guys with a lot of playing experience,” Powers said. Powers proved that by bringing a senior, a junior and a sophomore athlete with him to the lunch. “We’re going to have to earn our stripes a little bit. Our best basketball will be in February when it counts the most anyway. As long as these guys keep working and keep their heads on straight I think a lot of good things will be happening at the right time of year.”

Although the MAC luncheon is lighthearted, the coaches all take a poll to pick the top six finishers in the conference. Pleasant Valley was noted to be the top finisher this year, while Clinton didn’t make that list.

“We were looked over. Clinton isn’t athletic, it is just someone you can count on to win against,” sophomore LJ Henderson said. “We don’t want to be that way.”

The River Kings have been dealing with morning practices, which Coach Powers said were a bit of a struggle at first. However, one things always noted by coaches in the MAC is the competition: it’s a conference with a lot of talent top to bottom.

“The competitiveness between all the teams,” Henderson said. “The amount of competition that’s in the MAC this year is just crazy and through the roof. It’s going to be a fun time playing. Every game is going to be a battle.”

That keeps the youthful Clinton team optimistic about the upcoming season. Plus, Powers says he has a group of boys with a lot of fight.

“Outside of the locker room expectations aren’t that high,” Powers said. “Inside our locker room, expectations are going to be high. I expect these kids to do things the right well and do it well. So far they have and hopefully they continue.”

With a week of practice under their belt, Clinton is looking towards their first contest against on Nov. 28. That’s a home game against Cedar Rapids Jefferson.

While they may not have a lot of returners or a slot in the MAC coaches poll, they do have camaraderie, which every athlete is looking forward to increasing as the season progresses.

“We’ve had a week of practice, but we’re still messing with each other. We’re like brothers already,” Henderson said. “That’s going to help us.”

“This year for the MAC, nobody has a certain win,” Brett Miley said. “Nobody knows they’re going to win. Every time they go out, nobody knows who will win, everyone is evenly matched.”

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