Jeff Cali Sports Editor email@example.com
There are fans of the Latta boys basketball team who insist the 2013-14 Panthers could be just as good and — gasp — maybe even better than last year’s squad.
Wow. That’s a mouthful when you consider:
• Last year’s Latta boys team won the first Class 2A state championship in school history.
• All-Stater Trent Storts is now on the Latta coaching staff and isn’t available to make big buckets and big plays for this year’s Panther team.
• State tournament MVP Jake Collins has also graduated and is concentrating on a college baseball career.
“That’s a lot to prove to say you’re better than last year’s team,” said Latta head coach Donnie Husband.
But he’s not backing down from that notion, either.
“You truly can be better than last year’s team and NOT win a state championship. There’s a lot of things that go into it,” he said. “We could actually be better and not win it. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to some people because you’re not going to have the desired results at the end.”
Husband doesn’t really like to compare. Last year was then. This is now.
“This team is this team. That’s what we’ve tried to emphasize right from the start. Last year was wonderful, and we loved it, and we have a lot of players back from it. But last year is last year,” he said. “Trent and Jake aren’t there ... but this team will make or break itself from what it does over the next three or four months.”
The 2013-14 Panthers have the same goal as the state champions. They too want to be playing on the final day of the season. And they’re off to a good start.
Latta entered the holiday break ranked No. 1 in Class 2A and is off to a perfect 6-0 start.
“I think we’re in a good place right now. We’ve beat the teams that have been put in front of us, and we’ve taken care of business so far,” Husband said. “The key for us is to continue to grow as a team and continue to believe in the things we do and work at it every single day.”
Latta competes in the Kingston tournament this weekend (meeting Coalgate Thursday at 3 p.m. in a first-round matchup) before road games at Atoka and Dale next week. Then it’s the much-anticipated home bout with local rival Byng in the brand-new Latta Panther Fieldhouse on Jan. 21.
“The competition level is going to get steeper for us as we go forward. It’s going to be fun,” Husband said.
Teams generally consider a victory over Latta a nice prize anyway, but as defending state champs, that bull's-eye gets twice as big.
“That target gets bigger as you go along, but you have to accept that. If you want the accolades and the recognition ... then you accept the target,” Husband said.
“Our first five players have a target on their practice jerseys every day if we’re doing our jobs right as coaches. We should have guys going at them every day,” he explained. “That shouldn’t be a shock when we get into a game, that somebody wants to bow up and beat us. That’s what you want. You want to be good enough to where you get into that situation.”
Husband looks forward to finding out what the future holds for this present group of Panthers.
“I like our guys. They’re competitors and are going to work hard. We’ll have some downs somewhere ... and we’ll grow from that and move forward,” he said. “We have a great group of kids that have worked extremely hard to get where they are, and we’ve just got to continue to work hard and stay hungry and stay motivated, and we’ll have a chance to be around at the end maybe.”