MONTGOMERY – Friday Night Lights, the basketball edition, can always tell. We just know. When entering a venue and the first face seen is an Alabama coach, it’s a good sign. A very good sign.
As it turned out, Alabama Basketball Assistant Coach Antoine Pettway and I were both at the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on the campus of Alabama State University to see Midfield 53, Hale County 45 in the AHSAA Central Regional; and to watch the same player. For more on him, let’s go to the categories:
TOP PROSPECT: It may sound like heresy, but Hale County Wildcats junior guard Herb Jones may be higher on the Alabama hoops recruiting board than a legacy, Jamal Johnson of Spain Park. Oh, for sure, the 6-7, 180-pound Jones doesn’t play against 7A competition like Johnson and the Jaguars, but don’t let that fool you. Jones can play -- well, and on both ends.
Said Hale County Coach Antwan Butler: “Herb’s done a great job. He leads by example. He’s a hard worker, and the team follows his lead.
“He’s a winner. He can handle the ball, shoot it, and he’s just a good all-around player. He’s getting better each day.”
Jones started on the varsity at now-defunct Sunshine High in eighth and ninth grades. Butler said the move to Hale County’s hoops program has been smooth for Jones, now in his second year as a Wildcat. “I think it’s gone pretty good,” said the coach. “He’s fit in, because he’s a team player, so everybody gets along with him, and he’s a good kid.”
Added Wednesday’s opposing coach, Darrell Barber of Midfield: “(Jones) is 6-7. I know a lot about him. He’s a nice player. He’s an all-around player. He can do a little bit of everything.”
Jones’ box score looked like this: 16 points on 5-11 shooting from the floor. He went 1-2 on treys, and made 5-6 from the line, but missed the front end of a one-and-one down five points in the last minute. Jones added five boards, two blocks, two steals and one assist. He came in averaging around eight assists and 17 points per game.
The long, lean lefty looked especially athletically good when he stole a ball at midcourt, drove, dunked, drew a foul, and drained the free throw. He also features a nice mid-range jump shot. Jones can nail the 3, too.
While Butler didn’t list an area for improvement when queried, a person familiar with the program told me Jones need to demand the ball more. My observation is that he’s correct, and that Jones also needs to work harder to get open away from the ball.
CRIMSON CONNECTION: It didn’t end with Pettway. FNL likes to bring you this type story: Years ago, in the late ’90s, Alabama had a wing named Chris Rollins, who was a juco transfer. He played two years in Tuscaloosa. Fast-forward to 2016, and meet Christopher Rollins, a junior post man for Hale County at 6-6, 200. Like his dad, he plays hard and gets the most of his ability. He scored 15 points, grabbed nine boards, and blocked a shot.
He isn’t hearing from a lot of schools yet, but someone, at least like Shelton State, will come calling.
SENIORS WHO SHINED: Midfield 6-1 wing Ahmad Isaac scored seven points and averages 13. He’s a staunch defender who grabbed ten boards.
For the Wildcats, all-tourney team member Alvin Ryans, a 5-11 guard, scored seven, and played good “d.”
JUNIORS TO WATCH: Midfield’s Shy’m Cunningham, a 6-4 forward, made all-tourney while scoring a dozen points. He can leap.
SUPER SOPH: Midfield’s Keenan Isaac made all-tourney and scored 12 with six boards.
LARRY MUNSON “MY GOD, A SUB-FRESHMAN” AWARD: Eighth grader Kameron Woods, all 5-1 of him, starts at guard for the Pats, but is subbed for all game on defensive possessions. Still, he scored seven points, had two steals, and dealt an assist. Fun player to watch.
SNACK TIME/SUPPER TIME: No venue press room, food review this time around, because the media work room featured granola bars and chips, much like the fare last summer when Alabama State hosted the Mississippi-Alabama hoops all-star game. The budget is what it is. I can always hit the Prattville or Clanton Shoney’s on the way home.
Prattville won out, and I found out at the food bar that you can mix scrambled eggs and fried chicken. Oh, I want everyone to know I tried the brand new Waffle House on Valley Avenue in Homewood for lunch, and it’s spot on. The All Star Special gives you eggs, waffles, bacon, toast, and hash browns. Probably a first for me regarding eggs for lunch and dinner, same day. Fried at lunch, scrambled at supper.
NEXT UP: The state finals in Birmingham at the BJCC. It’s time for our annual look at J.O. Johnson’s John Petty, but the Jags must make Saturday morning’s finals for time to permit coverage. Should Lee –Montgomery and Tide football prospect Henry Ruggles face Spain Park Thursday, FNL will be on that one, too.