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HUNT CENTER, Paris — Basketball fans have an opportunity to enjoy junior college basketball at its highest level at 4 p.m. today at the Hunt Center, where Paris Junior College (17-6, 10-3) takes on No. 5-ranked Kilgore College (21-3, 12-3).
The Lady Dragons (14-11, 8-5) play the Kilgore Lady Rangers (12-10, 6-7) at 2 p.m.
Nowhere in America is junior college men’s basketball played on the elite level that it is in Texas, where prospective NCAA Division I players abound.
This afternoon is the start of a three-game match of titans over the next eight days at the Hunt Center, home court of Paris Junior College.
Coach Chuck Taylor‘s Dragons take on:
After some early-season hiccups, the Dragons opened 2014 with eight straight victories, including a 68-66 win over then-No. 2 Kilgore on Jan. 22, to break into the NJCAA national rankings themselves.
The Dragons now, compared to when they blew leads late in the game in November and December to lose to Coffeyville, Eastfield and Lamar State-Port Arthur, “it’s like night and day,” Taylor said.
In a 14-team league that stretches from Paris to Beeville, opposing coaches say no other gym is more feared than the Hunt Center, where PJC’s fans are right on top of the action.
“I just want to again say to all the people of Paris, we appreciate their support and hope they can come out and support us Saturday. We need this place packed because Kilgore is a very good team,” Taylor said.
“If we take care of things, we’ll be OK, but we’ve got three outstanding basketball teams coming in, and it would be a shame if our fans didn’t know about it and didn’t come out.”
The Dragons are taking it one game at a time, but by sweeping Kilgore, San Jacinto and Trinity Valley, they would capture the No. 1 seed in the Region XIV tournament March 4-8 in Tyler.
“We control our own destiny. Our guys are doing a phenomenal job, and our players are pumped up about it,” Taylor said Friday. “I like the direction we’re headed in, and I look forward to the challenge.”
The Dragons play five of their last seven regular-season games at home, including Bossier Parish (5-18, 3-10) on Feb. 24 and a tune-up game against East Texas Flight on March 1, the weekend before the conference tournament. They have road games at Tyler (11-11, 4-10) and Panola (11-15, 4-11).
Winning all seven of those games would improve Paris’ record to a more respectable 23-6 overall and 16-3 in Region XIV.
The winner of the post-season tournament gets one of 24 berths in the national tournament March 17-22 at Hutchinson, Kan., where PJC won the title in 2005, but hasn’t been back since 2008.
Playing without its best player, PJC lost in the final minute to Trinity Valley 10 days ago in Athens and to Navarro College last weekend in Corsicana to fall to 17-6 overall and 10-3 in conference.
The Dragons are back at full strength with sophomore Trevon Seymore back from a three-game suspension assessed for his part in a wacky scuffle before the Trinity Valley game in Athens.
If you’re just looking at the leading scorer each game, you can overlook the 6-4 Seymore, who plays on the wing. But he leads the league in steals and leads the team in assists and also averages nine or 10 points a game. Taylor calls him “the glue that holds our team together.”
He said: “You take that off your team for two games — against teams like Trinity Valley and Navarro — it’s a tough loss.”
Kilgore comes in today with an elite squad led by two sophomores who will be playing at the NCAA Division I level next season:
Moody is scoring at the clip of 18 points a game. Leave him open outside, and he will kill you. He hit 7-of-15 three-pointers in the Rangers’ 74-70 victory over Trinity Valley in Kilgore.
But Paris has 3-point threats itself in sophomore guard Jovan Austin, sophomore forward Delvin Dickerson and freshmen Joe Haynes, Qua Doster and Brandon Scott.
On any given game, opposing teams never know which PJC player will light up the scoreboard with a flurry of 3-pointers.
Inside, Wamukota is dominating, but Paris has a powerful inside presence itself in 6-9 sophomore centers Nouhoum Bocoum and Ronnie White.
Joining Moody (No. 3) and Wamukota (No. 42) in Kilgore’s all-sophomore starting line up will be 6-4 Jamarcus Weatherspoon (No. 1) and 6-7 Kalif Wright (No. 22).
Weatherspoon and Wright are not only among the league’s rebounding leaders, but score a lot of points around the basket.
Chris Gracela (No. 21), a 6-2 guard, is the Rangers’ other starter.
First in the game off the bench for Coach Brian Hoberecht‘s Kilgore team will be 6-1 guard Jonathan Milligan (No. 2) and 6-7 forward Aaron Dailey (No. 23), who usually clock as many minutes as the starters.
Paris likely will counter with sophomores Seymore (No. 10), Dickerson (No. 5), and Bocoum (No. 44), and freshmen Austin (No. 4) and Chris Shivers (No. 20).
Early in the game, White (No. 25) will relieve Bocoum at center for the Dragons, and Haynes (No. 23) and Scott (No. 11) will be cycled in, along with Doster (No. 24), and 6-9 power forward Xavier Dupree (No. 21).
Kilgore and Paris are the league’s best defensive teams, but also play a deliberate offensive game, working for the good shot. Kilgore is scoring 76.7 points a game and giving up 60.1 points a contest. Paris is averaging 76.3 and giving up 65.8.
San Jacinto is averaging 89.0 points and surrendering 69.7 points a game, while Trinity Valley is averaging 83.2 points and giving up 67.9 points.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra