The Blue Springs South boys basketball team started the season looking like a seasoned, veteran squad that had 20 games in the books.
The Jaguars’ crisp passing, never-give-up rebounding and a drive that characterized former coach Jimmy Cain’s teams resulted in an 83-43 home victory over the Ruskin Eagles Tuesday night.
South senior Caleb Israelite opened the game with back to back 3-pointers, sophomore Jaylon McDaniel had a season’s worth of highlight-reel dunks in one period and juniors Cade Berg and Khayden Hooks did all the little things that don’t show up in a scorebook. They helped give first-year head coach Josh Smith a victory that produced smiles on the Jaguars’ faces as they left the locker room.
“What I want,” said Smith, a longtime assistant to Cain, “is for everyone who has ever been associated with that team – Coach Cain and everyone else – to watch this team and to be proud. Coach Cain was here tonight, and I have no question that he felt that way.
“This was a collective team win, and I am so proud of our players. We took care of the ball, and shared the ball, and did all the things that are necessary to win a game. But it’s like I told our players, ‘Enjoy tonight for a couple of hours and be ready to get back to work Wednesday.’”
The Jaguars were electric in all forms of textbook basketball as they ran off to a 10-2 lead and never looked back. Israelite hit the two treys and McDaniel added a tomahawk dunk that had the large South student section begging for more.
And he delivered time after time.
“Jaylon is a great teammate,” Israelite, who matched McDaniel’s game-high 18 points, said of the sophomore who is drawing Division I recruiting interest. “He works so hard on defense, and when he gets the ball inside, you know it’s two points.
“This was the start we have been working so hard for. We have some new players, but Coach Smith has brought the same consistency and pride that Coach Cain had. I really don’t notice a lot of difference. Coach Smith gave us instant credibility, even though we lost a great coach in Coach Cain.”
When asked about his hot start, McDaniel, the 6-foot-6 forward, broke into a grin and thanked his teammates.
“It’s all about our team and our great coaches,” McDaniel said. “I was lucky to play for Coach Cain last year and I am lucky to play for Coach Smith this year. We all respected Coach Smith when he was an assistant coach and we respect him as a head coach. You can tell how hard he works by the way we played tonight. He had us ready to play tonight and I think we really responded to all the hard work.”
South led 24-12 after one period and took a 46-26 lead into halftime. A 27-point third quarter gave South a 73-38 lead going into the final period and led to the mercy-rule running clock.
“This is a team – first and foremost a team,” said Berg, who came off the bench and had two conventional three-point plays and finished with 16 points. “I feel the same as when I played for Coach Cain – we respected Coach Cain and we respect Coach Smith and love playing with each other.
“What’s better than playing basketball with your best friends?”
As the players left the court, Smith met up with his 10-year-old son Lincoln. His 7-year-old Everett was playing in his own game and missed dad’s debut as a head coach.
“It feels good to win the first game,” Smith said, focusing the attention on his team. “We’re getting back to work tomorrow and we’ll be ready to play Friday night.”