Herald Staff Report
Nick Lawrence has endured two rough seasons as boys basketball coach at Clinton High, relying on many freshmen, sophomores and juniors in key roles. Now that he finally has some experience, the program might be ready to turn things around.
"Our core guys have gotten a lot of varsity minutes, and we hope that experience translates into success," Lawrence said. "After struggling the last two years, our guys have a lot to prove. We had a very solid offseason, and our guys have returned with a new mantality and much better energy. We expect to be very competitive and look to be much improved. Returning four starters and a handful of guys that saw significant time last season should really help prepare us for what this conference brings night in and night out."
Junior Jalen Jones and sophomore Brady Ernst, both honorable mention all-conference players last season, are back to lead the River Kings. The 6-foot-5 Jones led Clinton in most statistical categories last year, including points (10.4 a game), assists (55), steals (25) and blocked shots (31). He also averaged 6.4 rebounds a game.
Ernst, at 6-7 the tallest River King, was the top rebounder (8.2 a game) last year and also averaged 8.6 points, shot 49 percent from the field and 70.3 percent from the free-throw line, and blocked 25 shots.
Jacob Judd, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, is another inside presence, while 5-10 senior Tyler Thacker played in every game in the backcourt. Judd averaged 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, while Thacker averaged 4.9 points and led the team with 18 3-point field goals.
J.J. Washington, a 5-10 junior, also returns after an injury-shortened season in which he averaged 3.3 points. Also back are 6-2 senior forward Justin Michel (2.9 points a game) and guards Ben Rowan, a junior who played in 12 games a year ago, and Rodney Witherspoon, a senior who played in 11. Lawrence also is looking for backcourt contributions from 6-2 junior Jon Cady.
"I think we will be deeper, bigger and more athletic than we have been in a while," Lawrence said. "We have a nice mix of players that have jelled well during the offseason and have made the commitment to get better. We should be one of the better rebounding teams in the conference and look forward to playing consistently on a game-to-game basis. We will look to push the ball up the floor and push the tempo. We need to do a better job this year of taking care of the basketball and closing out games.”
While this group's best basketball still might be a year away, Lawrence believes this could be the season that a team that finished 0-22 and 1-21 the past two seasons makes a run at an upper-division finish in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.