(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It's an extremely rare feat to accomplish what the Sikeston Bulldogs basketball team did a season ago.
But that's not going to deter this year's version from attempting to do the same thing.
Not only did they bring home Sikeston's first-ever state championship, they did it in a perfect, Hall of Fame, 30-0 fashion.
Although they're not predicting another flawless season, the Bulldogs feel they have what it takes to have a chance at raising another title.
"We go into every game thinking we can win it," Senior guard Caleb McGee said. "I think we have a very talented team this year. We have some things we need to overcome to get better, but I think we have a very good chance to have a season similar to last year."
One of the first obstacles needing to be addressed by the Bulldogs is replacing four seniors that were the heart, soul and leaders of the group last season.
"We lost four great seniors," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "Our players last year just came in and worked hard every single day. They always had a great attitude and had great focus.
'But, our guys have worked really hard and hopefully we'll have players step up and continue the success we've had in this program."
Sikeston, who opens the season against Blytheville, Ark. on Nov. 29, will have to replace 44 points per game from graduating seniors Corey Porter, Will Holifield, Darryl Howard and Janeil Hatchett.
Hatchett led a very balanced Bulldogs offensive attack with 12.1 points a game. Howard followed with 11.7 points while Holifield and Porter added 10.4 and 10.1 respectively.
Despite making up more than half of their points per game as a team, last year's group of seniors were more than their statistics stood for.
They were four leaders that everyone looked up to and went to when they needed to know what to do.
This year's group of seniors took notice of how they did things and are trying to emulate their ways.
"The seniors we lost last year were just real leaders in every bit of the definition," said McGee. "Our seniors are really trying to step up and fill that role. We have a different team, I think we shoot it a little better and are just different. But, we still try to do the same things by leading by example and be those leaders."
Sikeston will once again turn to a rotation style of play which consists of a 9-10 players. It's a formula that worked wonders last season as they never seemed to lose a step when substitutions were made.
"We're going to try and go 10 deep just like we did last year," McGee said. "We'll be able to do that. The 'second string' is really good and they really push our starters. That will be our strength -- just being able to out-work people because we have that depth."
Leading the starters, however, will be sure-handed senior Terry Jamison.
The 5-9 Jamison comes into the year as one of the most reliable guards in the region. He also possesses the ability to get around defenders and get to the basket with set of swift feet.
"His turnover ratio was outstanding last year," Holifield said about Jamison. "He just doesn't turn the basketball over much. He takes care of it and provides great leadership on the floor. He's been in a lot of big games and he's just an outstanding high school point guard."
One player that took his game to new heights towards the end of the season was Vashawn Ruffin.
Ruffin, a 5-9 two-guard, become one of Sikeston's main scoring threats of the bench last year and came up big in one of Sikeston's biggest games of the year.
Down 18-13 in the second quarter against the Lafayette Fighting Irish during the Class 4 semifinals, Ruffin scored seven-straight points -- two jumpers from mid-range and a 3-pointer from the top of the arc -- to give Sikeston a 20-18 lead after his personal run of points.
The Bulldogs never trailed again after that.
"He's really come in and worked hard," said Holifield about Ruffin. "He had a great off-season and has gotten better -- much better."
Manning the painted area will mostly be Sikeston's tallest player, Keldon Warfield, who stands at 6-2.
The senior is one of the more athletic players the Bulldogs feature and will attempt to take over a spot left by Porter, who led the team with 7.2 rebounds a game last year.
"We just have to all pull together and play hard," Warfield said about the upcoming season. "We have a lot of speed. We're not that tall so we try and push the ball as much as we can."
Rounding out the presuming starting five will be Kil'Ron Coleman and McGee.
"He's got a great body, a good athlete and has worked hard just like the rest of these guys," Holifield said. "Those are guys that have a lot of experience last year and they were in our rotation before.
Sikeston's 'second-string' will more than likely be made up of J.T. Jones, Reese Porter, Kyland Gross, Markeith Bratcher and Kyland Gross.
"We've got players on this team that have valuable experience from last year and they're looking really forward to getting out there and proving to everybody their ability and how hard they work," Holifield said. "I think we have 8-10 kids that we can play. I'm really looking forward to getting out and working as hard as we possibly can to see how that works out. I like to hope that we can again."