Arab boys basketball coach Justin Jonus feels so blessed with his 2019-20 team he’s almost worried.
Jonus has 10 seniors, most of whom have varsity experience, including four returning starters, from a team that has advanced to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons.
“Having 10 seniors is like, astronomical, and all 10 can contribute, too,” Jonus said this week as he and his players eye the beginning of preseason camp on Monday. “Five to six seniors is a good number.
“This is a good group and they’ll all finally be playing on the same team. We shouldn’t have an issue with leadership and experience. If we do, we’ll have to work on some things.”
So why is Jonus a little concerned? First, he has more playing football than before, including the team’s top returning player, Colby King, who might also be the best player on the football team. The final football game – unless the Knights make the playoffs – is Nov. 1.
That’s no real reason for concern, Jonus said, because basketball games early on are meaningful only as they relate to a team’s overall record, which doesn’t impact postseason positioning.
“In basketball, the start of the season is not that big of a deal,” Jonus said. “All that really matters are the area games and the playoffs And winning the (Marshall) County championship is important to us.
That’s not to say the early games are meaningless, it just means the four football players will have time to round into basketball shape before the really important games begin.
“We’ll get those guys back to where they need to be,” Jonus said. “They’re good kids and hard workers. They’ll be fine.”
What has Jonus most concerned, ironically, is the success of the past two seasons. He plans to remind them that what got them to Jacksonville the past two seasons will be needed as much or more this season.
“Sometimes it’s easier to get to the top than to stay at the top,” Jonus said. “I’m excited and also very hopeful the kids can handle the expectations.
“We want to go to a Final Four and our players have to realize, (area foes) Guntersville and Scottsboro won’t have the same mindset about Arab this season. We have the target on our back now.
“Can my kids understand that? They can’t go into those games thinking, we beat them last year, we’ll beat them again this year. Hopefully, they’ll keep the same mindset that enabled them to accomplish what they have the last two years.”
Arab has a lot to play for this season, Jonus added.
“These guys have made history here,” he said. “Not many teams reach the Sweet 16 back-to-back years and even fewer doing it three years in a row.
“I think the girls team did it when Alli Smalley (Bracewell) was here. It would be something very special to do. I never did it as a player, I know that.”
Senior players besides King are Kent Tyler, Blake Kelley, Brooks Malone, Trevor Miller, Logan Parker, Sam Chance, Caleb Isbell, Preston Williams and Wilson Walker. Also on the varsity roster are junior Darian Lusk and sophomore James Ed Johnson.