Bull­dogs bas­ket­ball slated to be­gin Nov. 9 against St. Paul Saints

Westside Eagle-Observer - - SPORTS - MIKE ECKELS meck­els@nwadg.com

DE­CATUR — Bas­ket­ball has al­ways been an im­por­tant part of the De­catur sports cul­ture, be­gin­ning with the 1923 Bull­dogs who won the North­west Ar­kan­sas Cham­pi­onship with 32 wins and only a sin­gle loss. No­vem­ber 9 marks the first bas­ket­ball con­test and the be­gin­ning of the 2018-19 De­catur High School boys bas­ket­ball sea­son.

John Unger, the De­catur boys’ head bas­ket­ball coach, and Ja­son Porter have spent the last few weeks work­ing on fun­da­men­tals and putting the fin­ish­ing touches on this year’s Bull­dog play­book.

Since the district and reg­u­lar sea­son cham­pi­onship teams of 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Bull­dogs have strug­gled to main­tain the com­pet­i­tive edge that those teams were known for. But Unger sees big changes on the hori­zon for this year’s Bull­dogs team.

“We have strug­gled over the past two years,” said Unger, who is in his sev­enth year with the boys’ bas­ket­ball pro­gram. “This year we have all the right pieces in place to be suc­cess­ful.”

In 2012, Unger’s sec­ond year, tal­ent emerged that would lead to three years of suc­cess for the De­catur pro­gram.

In those years, the Bull­dogs had both size, strength and tal­ent, par­tic­u­larly in the 2014 and 2015 team when twins Mario and Vic­tor Urquidi, Allen Cas­tanada, Terry Kell and Brodi Funk gave Bull­dog fans a show that was rem­i­nis­cent of the 1920s and 1940s pro­grams. Both Mario and Vic­tor led De­catur to a 10-1 reg­u­lar sea­son cham­pi­onship in their se­nior year in 2015. Unger sees those very same fac­tors in this year’s team.

“We haven’t had this kind of size that could play in five years,” Unger said. “We have three guys, Ryan Ross, Con­ner Sut­ton and Ta­fari James, who are six (foot), two (inches), (and) six, three, to go with Kevin Garcia who is six foot and, if you add Cay­den Bing­ham into there, we have four guys over six foot, two. And now we are one of the big­gest teams in the league, which makes my job a lit­tle eas­ier.”

This sea­son, the Bull­dogs moved back to the 2A Re­gion 1 Con­fer­ence from 1A, where they have played the past two sea­sons. The move was part of the Ar­kan­sas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion re­align­ment pro­gram. With the move, De­catur be­came the small­est 2A school in the state by one-third of a stu­dent.

This year the sched­ule might look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than those of the past two years. Unger de­cided to put more smaller schools on the non-con­fer­ence sched­ule which runs from Nov. 9 through Dec. 20.

“When I sched­uled games, I didn’t want to sched­ule a bunch of larger schools,” said Unger. “For the non-con­fer­ence sched­ule and our tour­na­ment, I wanted to be more con­sis­tent. This way we will play games with sim­i­lar size schools as De­catur, so we won’t be get­ting beat up be­fore the year starts. We will play Gen­try this year, which is al­ways fun.”

De­catur will face sev­eral new op­po­nents this sea­son, in­clud­ing Flip­pin, Ar­kan­sas Arts Academy, Yel­lville-Sum­mit and Cot­ter, cou­pled with one old foe, the Eureka Springs High­landers, which al­ways pro­vided some ex­cit­ing con­tests in the past.

Unger used the off­sea­son to work be­yond the ba­sic fun­da­men­tals of the game. He worked with his play­ers to build a stronger game plan and one more con­sis­tent with the old plan from his ear­lier years with the pro­gram.

“This year’s team is way more tal­ented, way more ag­gres­sive, a lot taller and stronger than last year’s team,” Unger said. “I be­lieve that this team will be one of the top four teams in our re­gion and has a real pos­si­bil­ity to win at the re­gion­als and go on to state.”

The De­catur Bull­dogs open the 2018-19 sea­son Nov. 9 when they travel to St. Paul to face the Saints in a non-con­fer­ence matchup. The game be­gins at 7 p.m. The Lady Bull­dogs and both boys’ and girls’ ju­nior high teams also open the sea­son at St. Paul Nov. 9. These games be­gin at 4 p.m. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to de­catursd.com for weekly sched­ule up­dates.

West­side Ea­gle Ob­server/MIKE ECKELS

De­catur’s Ryan Ross works his way through a hive of Hor­nets to put up a hook shot dur­ing the De­catur-Col­cord Sum­mer League bas­ket­ball game at Peter­son Gym in De­catur May 30. De­catur be­gins its 2018-19 sea­son when it trav­els to St. Paul Nov. 9.

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