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NORTH LITTLE ROCK BOYS Cats becoming household names

Some might call the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats the Cheers of Arkansas high school basketball. Everybody knows their names.

Of course it wasn’t but a couple of months ago that nobody knew them. Now they are the top team in the state and appear to be on cruise control towards a 7A/6A East conference title and maybe even a state championship.

“We’ve gone from being the hunter to the hunted,” head coach Johnny Rice said.

After a pair of blowout wins against Marion, 81-41, and Mountain Home, 69-51, Rice said his team has settled in to their position in the pecking order of the state’s basketball picture.

“Now people are circling their calendars for our games,” Rice said. “We’ve got a senior laden team and they are handling success well.”

The toughest week of the schedule seems to be in the rear view mirror. A win at Jonesboro, another top five team, was one that Rice thought would be the hardest to get.

“I definitely thought that one would be the toughest,” Rice said.

The Charging Wildcats have developed into a team that is hard to guard. Rice said he has three guys that are averaging 15-20 points per game and a couple more that are getting eight to 10 per night.

But Rice is more concerned about his team’s defense rather than the defense of his opponent.

“I think we are giving up too many points,” Rice said. “That’s just me.”

Being regarded as the top team in the state hasn’t affected the team negatively yet.

“I’ve said things like we need to give effort and play like we are the No. 1 team,” Rice said, “but that’s really all that’s been said.”

The Charging Wildcats are scoring in bunches and are winning consistently by large margins.

“We knew we were talented,” Rice said.

But did anyone think that the Charging Wildcats were this good? Unlikely.

But when North Little Rock defeated the likes of Little Rock Parkview, Fayetteville and Little Rock Hall on consecutive nights to win the Jammin’ for Jackets tournament, the state took notice.

The Bulldogs will likely take the top seed in the West, and they will host the state tournament. While Rice’s goals are to win a league title and a top seed in his own right, if the Charging Wildcats have to matchup against Fayetteville again, the location preference would be at Barton Coliseum rather than Fayetteville.

That would mean a rematch would be for a state title. That’s a rematch that no one saw coming from either side when the season started.

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