Monticello coach Wayne Sherrer talks to his team during a recent practice. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
MONTICELLO — Wayne Sherrer could not recall the last time a Monticello boys basketball team of his started 4-0 in conference play.
With this season’s bunch, his 25th team at the high school, he doesn’t have to.
The transition from the 5A-Southeast Conference to the 8-4A has been nice for Sherrer’s Billies, who are off to a 14-2 overall start, including a 4-0 mark in league play. They’ve succeeded so far in a challenging portion of their schedule, which has them playing six of their first seven 8-4A games on the road.
Among their conference wins are a 45-39 decision at Dumas and 43-29 feat at Warren. Both of those teams are among the top four in the 8-4A standings.
“It’s good because both of those are road games (Dumas and Warren), which are added pluses,” Sherrer said. “We try to play the same type of nonconference we played when we were in 5A. We played Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs and Camden Fairview, trying to keep ourselves at the same level we were at.”
A year ago, the Billies finished 15-12 and 7-7 in the 5A-Southeast, sliding into the 5A state tournament where they were ousted by Forrest City in the first round. They then were moved from that conference to the 8-4A along with Crossett, replacing the last two 8-4A champions in Dollarway (now of the 2-4A) and McGehee (now of the 8-3A).
This year, Monticello is 4-1 against 5A teams, losing only to Little Rock Mills 47-42, and 2-1 against 6A competition, the only blemish a 37-34 loss to Marion in the Southeast Arkansas Holiday Tournament semifinals almost two weeks ago. Experience against bigger schools has paid off for the Billies.
“It made us a lot stronger and it changed our game speed,” said Torry Butler, the team’s scoring leader. “It made us work a lot harder.”
What’s been even more impressive about Monticello’s start to the season is its defense; only one team — McGehee — has scored more than 50 points against the Billies. Monticello won that game 54-53 on the road.
But at 55.2 points per game, Sherrer would like to see the offense improve.
“I don’t think we have played up to our capability offensively yet,” he said. “We’ve been really good defensively. Even nights where we had a few guys who were off their game, because of depth, we were usually able to find somebody who could take up the slack.”
Butler leads Monticello with a 13.0-point per game average. Senior guard Mike Jones and junior guard Christian Robertson are right behind at 9 per game.
But Sherrer also points to the depth of his ballclub.
“We play about 10 players,” he said. “It makes competition and practice real strong, which makes everybody improve and it keeps a lot of enthusiasm for a lot of guys who don’t get a chance to play.”
Said Butler: “Great teamwork and hard work in practice. No days off. We’ve found a lot of chemistry as we’ve played a lot of games.”
Sherrer said he’s probably had teams with better individuals but not one with as much quality from the top to the bottom of the roster as this team. So far, the Billies are on the right path toward a championship in their new conference.
“It’s a good group of kids who are talented,” Sherrer said. “If we can continue to improve and be peaking at the right time, we’ve got a chance to get some good things done.”