The 2015-16 Jones County Junior College Bobcats open the 2015-16 season Nov. 2 in the Northeast Mississippi Tipoff Tournament vs. Northwest. The home opener for JCJC will be on Nov. 9 vs. Holmes.
Photo/Teresa McCreery, JCJC Media Relations
Ellisville – Rahim Lockhart has been through the MACJC basketball circuit for one year.
That helps when it comes to preparing his Jones County Junior College Bobcats for the upcoming season. But he says there is still much more to grasp.
“Other than knowing where all of the gyms are, I still think I have a lot to learn,” he quipped.
Lockhart guided the Bobcats to an 18-5 record last year. They were ranked No. 16 in the final NJCAA Division I regular poll in his first year as head coach. That was just one year removed from JCJC claiming the 2013-14 NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
Lockhart said the Bobcats have the ability to remain among the nation’s elite.
“Jones is a national level team because we just won the national championship two year ago,” he said. “For us to continue that type of play, we have to recruit well and we have to play the very best teams and beat them.”
The Bobcats have several players returning from last year’s team, but they did lose All-American point guard Bryce Jones. Jones was the floor leader of the 2014 national championship team and signed with Murray State University at the conclusion of his sophomore season.
“Bryce Jones is irreplaceable,” Lockhart said.
But Lockhart is excited about the mix of talent the Bobcats will put on the floor this season.
“We have a really good group of guys,” he said. “We had a really productive recruiting class – that’s what the popular opinion is. We have a nice group of returning guys that offer invaluable leadership on and off the floor.”
At the post position, JCJC will have 6-foot-9, 260-pound freshman Bruce Stevens, along with 6-foot-10 Albert Goss, 6-foot-8 sophomore Davin Powell and 6-foot-7 Emetric Fells.
Stevens is from Bay Springs, Goss is from Jackson Murrah, Fells is from Poplarville and Powell is a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma and is originally from Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Stevens became one of the state’s top recruits after guiding Bay Springs to the MHSAA 2A championship last season.
“Bruce is a guy who gives us an opportunity to be an upper echelon team,” Lockhart said. “He has great size, great touch. He is a matchup problem because he is very skilled. He will help us a lot. Albert dedicated himself to conditioning over the summer and has done extremely well in our scrimmages.
“Davin has great athleticism and Emetric has really impressed us with his knowledge of the game and ability to contribute. We feel we are really solid at the post.”
At the stretch 4 position, the Bobcats will have the services of a pair of freshmen: 6-foot-7 Tristan Walley and 6-foot-5 Xavier Howard. Walley is from Hattiesburg and Howard is from Pearl.
“Tristan is a bigtime talent,” Lockhart said. “He is extremely athletic and skilled. We feel like he will bring a whole lot to the table as far as offensive rebounding and providing toughness in the interior and the frontcourt. If we have to go small, we feel like he can guard the post. He is probably our most versatile player.
“Xavier is one of those kids that was overlooked in the recruiting process, but has shown the most progress on our team from day one until now. He can play inside/out and can cause matchup problems. He is tough enough to defend the post and skilled enough to go around a bigger opponent.”
Lockhart believes the Bobcats have plenty of numbers at the point guard and wing slots.
Maurice Dunlap, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, along with 5-foot-9 freshman David “DC” Davis of Purvis and 5-foot-10 Ricky Holden of Laurel are among the top players on the perimeter. Dunlap is a transfer from Mississippi State University.
“Maurice brings an intense work ethic from the Division I level,” Lockhart said. “He understands how hard it is and how demanding it is at the next level. DC Davis has really come on the last two weeks. You can see what all of the hype is about with him. He is a scoring machine. Ricky has been with us since the summer and has done well.”
Two transfers with size at the guard positions will be Andre Johnson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Booker High School in Sarasota, Florida, and Christian Robertson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Monticello High School in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Johnson is a transfer from Collin College (Texas) and Robertson is a transfer from Northern Oklahoma-Enid.
“Andre is a very versatile point guard, being 6-4,” Lockhart said. “That’s a little bit different than what we are used to at Jones. Andre is a long, rangy player and will provide us with a different look than most juco guards. Christian is one of the most athletic wings in this conference. He is a guard, but can cause problems for the other team because he is strong.”
Three returning guards will be 5-foot-7 Zebedee Rice of Starkville, 6-foot Andrew Riley of Jackson Provine and 5-foot-8 James Williams of Jackson Wingfield.
“As far as I’m concerned, Zeb is the best shooter in the nation,” Lockhart said. “He has great range and when he shoots, he is going to make it. James is one of those kinds of kids you have to have on the team. He brings intensity every day, whether he is on scout team or second team or whatever.
“Andrew has the most minutes played returning from last year. He does not really have a set position, but just put him on the floor. He has provided us invaluable leadership on the floor. He knows the offense and the defensive schemes better than anybody. His value to the team is unparalleled. We are going to rely a lot on him, especially early in the season, until the other guys can really catch up and get more comfortable with game situations.”
Lockhart is particularly excited about the influx of local freshmen and transfers on this year’s team. He notes that MACJC schools are allowed only three out-of-state players.
“But with our three out-of-state guys and the freshmen we signed, especially out of the Pine Belt area, it’s like we have eight out-of-staters,” he said. “Bruce, Tristan, DC and Rickey – those are some bigtime players. We feel like we hit a home run in the Pine Belt region in recruiting. Every juco in the state wanted Bruce and Tristan.
“Then you look at Maurice, a DI transfer. You are going to take all of those guys, no matter what. We feel like we have some bigtime talent on this team.”
Generally, Lockhart expects the Bobcats to be able to score better inside this season.
“We should be able to get it down low a lot more this year with Bruce and Albert,” he said. “Our guards overall are more skilled and we can attack the basket more.”
Lockhart added that the Bobcats are still settling on a starting lineup and what roles players will play. But he is excited about the team’s depth.
“I can’t tell you right now who our top ten players are,” he said. “It makes practice interesting every day. When those top six, seven or eight guys start separating themselves that should make us better.
“Last year, we did not have the depth to play the style I envisioned, but we wore other teams down and won several games in the final minutes because of our conditioning.”
The Bobcats, who are picked third in the NJCAA Region 23 preseason poll, open the season Nov. 2-3 in the Northeast Mississippi Tipoff Tournament in Booneville. JCJC faces Northwest, led by former Bobcat head coach Bubba Skelton, at 5 p.m. on Nov. 2 and tourney host Northeast at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3.
JCJC opens its home schedule at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 against defending Region 23 champion Holmes, who advanced to the Elite Eight of last year’s NJCAA Division I Tournament. The Bulldogs are led by 6-foot-3 guard Daryl Macon, an Arkansas commit and preseason All-American.
“My philosophy varies from year to year, but regardless I want to play the best,” Lockhart said. “For us to be the best, we have to schedule the best. We are playing teams with very heralded recruiting classes. Northeast will be a very challenging game and Northwest is coached by a legend. Those first two games are really tough.
“We then get Holmes with a first-team All-American. We are not going to duck anybody.”
Returning for his second year as assistant coach for the Bobcats is Yusef Fitzgerald.