Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Mount Zion's Cody Simmons (left) and J.R. Holder stand 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 respectively, and could create some major size mismatches for Union Grove in Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. game at Mount Zion.
JONESBORO — Just five games into the season, the Mount Zion boys basketball team has already eclipsed its win total from last season.
Last season, the Bulldogs — despite a breakout year from Jacksonville University signee Jarius Holder — finished 4-22 in coach Maurice Triche’s first season.
Mount Zion didn’t pick up that fourth and final win until January 13 — an 85-76 win over Riverdale. This season, however, the Bulldogs won their fourth game just seven days after the season began.
Also against Riverdale.
And when Triche recounts the way his squad pulled off the 54-53 win against the Raiders on Nov. 20, he gives blunt assessment of how it happened.
“It was luck,” Triche said.
How could a coach say that about his team, you wonder? You’d have to hear Triche’s definition of luck.
“Luck means hard work, dedication and consistency meets opportunity, and that’s why we won that game,” he said. “Riverdale is a good team. They lost by just four to Westlake who’s normally a powerhouse. We just refused to quit and when the time presented itself, we took advantage.”
The open door of opportunity came when Triche put Mount Zion into its motion offense and put the ball in the hands of its best player — Holder.
Holder came off of a pick with the ball, made a hard move toward the basket and then stepped back behind the three point line in the corner to sink a wide open shot with 15 seconds left.
Triche said Holder was so wide open because the Riverdale defense was sucked into the paint, worrying about 6-feet-7 Momodoo Senghore and 6-foot-6 Cody Simmons. It was the closest of their five wins, but it presents a blueprint of how Mount Zion has reversed its fortunes in the new season.
Last season, Holder averaged 26 points a game. But he was pretty much the entire team. This season, not so much, says Simmons.
“I feel like I’m able to help him out this year and take the load off of him a bit,” said Simmons who is averaging 20.5 points and 20.7 rebounds a game for the Bulldogs.
“And with Momodoo down low there too and working hard down there, we’re able to work inside, out and save (Jarius) for the middle of the game.”
Senghore is chipping in about six points and eight boards a game as well. But what’s impressive about Holder’s growing supporting cast is how quickly they have improved to starting lineup caliber players.
Senghore didn’t even start on Mount Zion’s junior varsity squad last year.
“It’s a testament of his work ethic and dedication, especially in the weight room,” Triche said.
Meanwhile, this is Simmons’ first year playing high school basketball. The senior isn’t a stranger to the sport, however. He honed his skills with the Atlanta Celtics’ AAU team and by competing in every recreation center he could find, anticipating the time he’d get to play on a high school team.
And now he is enjoying some early success, he’s starting to feel like the wait was well worth it.
“We’re starting off good and I hope we’re able to keep it going,” Simmons said. “It’s been like 10 years since we’ve had a state tournament team around here. We’re starting to talk championships around here now.”
And while these upstart Bulldogs may be sneaking up and shocking a few high school basketball watchers this season, Triche said that he saw enough from his team in during the 4-22 campaign to where he isn’t completely surprised.
“We lost 22 games last year, but we really only got blown out in four or five,” Triche said. “We went to Lovejoy, a state playoff team and lost by three. Went to Jonesboro, a final four team, lost by six. Lost to North Clayton, a state tournament team by one.
“I saw enough to know we had a good team. We just needed to learn how to win.”
Improving upon that five-game win total won’t be easy, as the Bulldogs play five of their next six on the road, including Friday’s tilt with McIntosh and next Saturday’s tussle with Jonesboro which returns its entire lineup.
Triche isn’t worried, however. While he wants to win every game, he said he’s more interested in building his Bulldogs up for a stretch run.
“We take these wins. They’re good,” Triche said. “But we don’t want to peak as a team right now. It’s too early for us to peak. We want to peak during the region tournament and heading into state. That’s when we hope to see all of our hard work and dedication pay off.”