Of all the teams playing in the Zebra Invitational, which begins today, the Dollarway Cardinals might have the biggest disadvantage – they have yet to play a single game.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Dollarway head coach Ellis “Chief” Berry said. “We missed out on about 13 ball games during that time, so we are way behind.
“We have to do some catching up.”
Dollarway postponed the first half of its season while it waited for football to come to a close. The Dollarway football team finished the season undefeated and made it to the semifinals before being eliminated by Booneville.
“Everybody has played some games except for us,” Berry said. “We just need to see where we are at.
“We have a long way to go and we have a lot of basketball ahead of us.”
Dollarway won the Zebra Invitational last year and made it to the 4A state championship final. Berry said he has three or four players returning from last season.
“Everybody who has been at practice brings something to the floor,” Berry said. “They have been working hard but we will have to wait to see exactly where they are at.”
Amongst the key returners for Dollarway includes all-state players Joshua Liddell and Kabion Ento, who were recently named the Southeast Arkansas Offensive Player and Defensive Players of the Year.
“We are going to have a little experience starting off,” Berry said. “We just have to get back into basketball mode and conditioning.
“…The attitude and discipline is real good and that is a plus.”
Dollarway will face Clarendon on Friday at 2 p.m. and Little Rock Mills on Saturday at 2.
“We are just going to go out there and do what we do best,” Berry said. “We have to be sound on defense and try to force turnovers to get easy baskets.
“…We really just want to work on our depth before we get into conference.”
Dollarway’s 2-4A Conference schedule will begin on Jan. 4 when the Cardinals face Lonoke in a make-up game from Dec. 10.
“It is going to be a challenge for us but our expectations are very high,” Berry said. “And they will continue to be high until we get some games under our belt.
“Our kids have been working hard and getting into basketball mode. It is going to take a while, but we know what we have to do to compete in our conference.”
Berry said trying to defend the tournament title is not impossible but will take a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.
“We won it last year and we are trying to repeat,” Berry said. “We got a chance to do it again, but it is going to take a team effort.”
Pine Bluff is at full strength
The Cardinals aren’t the only team that is glad the football season is finally over.
The Pine Bluff Zebras (3-3) are now at full strength following the return of the football players. Pine Bluff made it to the 6A football state championship before losing to El Dorado almost two weeks ago.
“We are at full strength,” Pine Bluff head coach Carl Smith said. “We don’t have the small lineup that we had been playing with.
“We got more physical and bigger in the post and that’s going to do wonders there. We should be able to rebound better and get more physical. It is going to help out tremendously.”
The difference, however, between Dollarway and Pine Bluff is the fact that the Zebras have played six games without their additional football players.
“We are just trying to get their basketball legs under them,” Smith said. “We are running up and down the floor and getting back into basketball shape.
“They aren’t there yet. They don’t have their legs yet.”
Pine Bluff will play Little Rock Mills on Friday and Little Rock McClellan on Saturday before facing Dollarway on Monday. All of Pine Bluff’s games will tip off at 3:30 p.m.
“I had a few guys before they got there,” Smith said. “We can compete with the guys I had. We will run them a few minutes here and there.
“I don’t have to overkill them and force a lot of minutes on them.”
Smith said he does not know too much about Mills but this week’s preparations have been more about Pine Bluff and less about its opponents.
“We need to take care of what we do,” Smith said. “And understand what we are trying to do.
“… More than anything than what Mills can do.”
Dollarway hasn’t played any games yet and Smith said that might give Pine Bluff and the other teams a slight advantage, but it is still a rivalry game. He knows what to expect.
“They will play us hard,” Smith said. “We just have to go out there and play,” Smith said. “…We aren’t doing just great right now but we have been able to run some of the stuff we want to run.
“We just need to understand where to be at.”