Holland is trying to make the most of one-year stint
NEW MADRID -- Talk about the ultimate one-year coaching gig.
Jobs don't get much more enticing than the position New Madrid County Central boys' basketball coach Joby Holland has found himself in this season.
Holland is the bridge between last year's coach, Lennies McFerren, whose teams at Central and Charleston won nine state championships, and next year's coach, David Fields, who serves as Holland's assistant this year.
Holland finds himself at the wheel of the two-time defending Class 3A state champions, who return all five starters from last year. As driver, Holland is merely trying not to misplace the keys and keep the Eagles on the same road.
"I want to try to continue the things coach McFerren has done to the best of my ability," Holland said. "It meant a lot to me as far as the kids we have to be able to coach them this year. I'm just trying to hold things together. You can't replace someone like coach McFerren. You just take the position and do the best you can."
And Holland has Central washed and waxed for another drive into the state playoffs. The Eagles are gleaming with a 23-3 record and are the top seed for the District 1 Tournament, which begins Tuesday at Sikeston High School.
Holland previously coached boys' basketball at Oran and Festus and most recently served as Central's girls' coach, leading that team to a second-place finish at the state tournament in 1996.
"This is an exceptional group," Holland said. "I could coach for 25, 30 years and not have a group like this."
After McFerren retired as the Eagles' coach after seven years, Holland stepped down from his middle principal position to accept the coaching job. He is the assistant principal at the high school and will become principal next year.
Until then, he's also coach of a juggernaut. The Eagles possess one of the most experienced, balanced and athletic lineups in the state.
On paper, and the court, the Eagles lack nothing. Need senior leadership? Try five senior starters.
Need balanced scoring? All five starters -- Dereke Tipler (21 ppg), Ronland Ranson (14 ppg), Brian Murph (12 ppg), Derrell Minner (10 ppg) and Terrance Smith (10 ppg) -- average in double-figures. And they all have scored at least 20 points in a game this season.
Need size? There's Minner, a 6-foot-8 center that averages 12 rebounds. Three starters are 6-3 or taller.
Need a bench? There's Desmond Sims and Tyler Wagner, both experienced, athletic seniors. Sims is headed for the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship.
Need a winning attitude? Besides winning the last two state titles, Central played in the Class 3A championship football game in the fall. Four starters and Sims played key roles for the Eagles.
The Eagles played football so long this year they had to drop out of their own season-opening Riverbend Classic, which began the same day as the 3A championship game.
Need a go-to guy? There's Tipler, a McDonald's All-American candidate, at point guard. A two-time all-state selection who averages a team-high 21 points and nine assists, Tipler may be Central's ultimate strength. His role was never more evident this year than in a conference game at Notre Dame where he scored 10 points in the final two minutes as the Eagles rallied for a 63-59 victory.
Tipler also hit the game-winning shot in last year's state championship game, a 49-47 victory over Hickman Mills.
"Dereke kind of draws a lot of the attention because of the things he's done over the past three years, but he doesn't have to score for us to be successful," Holland said. "We've got a balanced attack." And the Eagles have honed their positive attributes against a difficult schedule.
Their only losses have been to larger schools: Vashon, Missouri's top-ranked team in 4A, in the championship game of the Bass Pro Tournament in Springfield, Mo.; a two-point loss to Carbondale, Ill., in the title game of the Carbondale Terrier Tournament, and a one-point loss to Poplar Bluff, ranked No. 5 in 4A.
Central occupied the top spot in the Class 3A poll all season until its most recent loss to Poplar Bluff. The setback has been followed by seven straight wins.
The Eagles have not only played the top area teams, but they've fared well against national competition. They won by a point over Christ the King of New York, which defeated Ozark, Central's replacement atop the 3A poll. The Eagles also own a victory over a Orlando, Fla., ranked No. 2 in the state's Class 6A poll.
"I think we've prepared ourselves as well as we can," Holland said.
And yet Central isn't a lock to win its own district.
"I'm leery of every doggone one of them," Holland said. "I worry about everybody. Everybody can expose your weaknesses. Especially these folks that have seen our kids a lot. They know our weaknesses and what to concentrate on."
The Eagles are 3-0 against district opponents, with wins over state-ranked Dexter, Kennett and an improving Sikeston team, which recently defeated Poplar Bluff.
"I don't know if you can say they have any weaknesses," Dexter coach Eric Sitze said. "The only thing you can do is try to limit their strengths."
Dexter, the second seed, and the rest of the field will test the Eagles' metal, of which Holland is aware.
Although they're shooting for a third straight 3A championship trophy, they've become a trophy in their own right.
There's nothing better to a team than to beat a two-time state champion.
"Regardless of what they've done in the past they've got to prove themselves every night because they're always going to get everybody's best game," Holland said.