By Brandon Speck
Ripley has a team ready to work – and a coach willing to let them.
Isiah Howard barely had time to take off his football pads after a season-ending loss at Noxubee before calling Tigers basketball coach Grant Gardner. Gardner said it was close to 10:30 p.m., a request to open the gym at 9 the next morning.
“I got to the gym and all the football guys were there and had called everybody. They had organized it on their own after football,” Gardner said. “For them to have everyone on the team here, I said ‘This team is going to be special.’”
Ripley got off to an 8-0 start, before Saturday’s setback to DeSoto Central in the BIGG Christmas Classic. That came a night after a slugfest with New Albany.
There may be a setback, though Gardner hopes not. Leading scorer, senior Malik Pearson – 19 ppg. – had an MRI Monday after injuring his knee Friday. Last season, Pearson tore his ACL near the same time. If news is bad, Gardner said it changes what Ripley does defensively.
“He’s our best on-ball defender and it would change what we do pressure-wise,” Gardner said. “We’re hoping it’s cartilage and it’s two weeks.”
It wouldn’t be Ripley’s first fire. The Tigers weathered plenty last season.
Ripley lost five guys last season, two to knees, one to a hip, five of an eight-man rotation.
One of those football players, Christian Johnson, didn’t play last season. But the running back standout is back for his senior year. He said this team has the skill. It just needs to rely less on individual talent.
“The young guys are stepping up,” Johnson said. “We’ve got skill. We try to play one-on-one too much.”
That’s where improvement will come easier. Young guys learning to play together got experience last season.
Ripley is guard-heavy. Three juniors Howard, Cody Shelton and Cannan Ratliff are three-year starters. Sophomore Marquellus Edgeston is off to a fast start and freshman Dwayne Cox is averging 12 points per game.
“We’re young, but the good thing about so much bad stuff happening last year is that all these young guys played a lot because they had to,” Gardner said. “It’s a young team, grade-wise, but it’s an old team, playing-wise.”