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