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NORTH LITTLE ROCK BOYS Rice credits Wildcats strong start to defense, teamwork

When looking at the basketball picture in Arkansas’ 7A/6A classification, one saw the usual suspects. Little Rock Hall, Jacksonville, and Little Rock Parkview were understandably a part of the conversation.

North Little Rock was not.

Head coach Johnny Rice didn’t hold offense at that. All his team did was go out and beat those teams, and in Jacksonville’s case, the Charging Wildcats have done it twice. Throw in a win over Clarksville last week and North Little Rock is redrawing that picture.

Much has been made of North Little Rock’s hot-shooting defeat of Hall in the Jamming for Jackets’ championship game.

But head coach Johnny Rice said the shooting is just a part of his club’s arsenal.

“We’ve played together,” Rice said, “and we’ve played defense. We didn’t shoot particularly well against Clarksville, but we were able to make plays. I always say there are three things you can do every night.”

Those three things are play defense, hustle and rebound. Shooting isn’t something that players can readily control.

That formula has been quickly and widely successful.

“I’ve played and coached here when North Little Rock wasn’t really relevant,” Rice said.

While the Charging Wildcats have scorers, Rice has been quick to praise guard Gary Vines whom Rice relies upon.

“He’s our best defender,” Rice said, “and our best ball handler in pressure situations.

The Charging Wildcats are taking a bit of a break this week, and with the competition in front of them, they may need it.

The Charging Wildcats are going to Fort Smith on Dec. 27 for the Coke Classic where they will face Bryant in their first round game, the first of games on three straight days.

The competition keeps getting fierce with the likelihood of facing the Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies.

With what his club has seen so far, the conference slate could prove just as tough. West Memphis and Jonesboro are doing well also.

Conference play begins with a Jan. 4 trip to Cabot.

If they can keep up with their continuing success, the Charging Wildcats will not only count themselves as relevant, they can be classified as contenders.

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