JONESBORO — High-scoring guards figure to lead Bay and Buffalo Island Central as they battle for position in 2A-3 conference boys’ basketball.
Bay returns two of its top scorers from last season in Jay Jones and Paiton Hartley. Jones earned all-state tournament honors for the Yellowjackets, who finished in a three-way tie atop the 2A-3 and reached the 2A state tournament quarterfinals.
BIC features 6-4 senior guard Jesse Kinard, an all-state selection last season, and 6-3 sophomore guard Jaron Burrow, who scored 52 points in the Mustangs’ first two games.
The 2A-3 league lineup has changed with the departure of Sloan-Hendrix, Salem and Melbourne for 2A-2, where they join Tuckerman. Earle, last year’s state runner-up, moves in from 2A-6 along with Cross County and East Poinsett County, joining Bay, BIC, Marmaduke, Rector and Riverside.
“Earle should be the favorite and a pretty good dogfight after that,” said Riverside’s Buster Campbell, who is entering his 45th season as a head coach. “All of us will have to learn to roll with the punches and hope there is not too many punches.”
Ridgefield Christian also faces a new challenge in 1A-3 as Marked Tree, a Class 2A state power in recent seasons, moves down in classification. The Indians reached at least the 2A quarterfinals every year from 2015-19, reaching the title game in 2017 and 2018.
Armorel, Crowley’s Ridge Academy, Hillcrest, KIPP Blytheville, Mammoth Spring and Maynard are also in 1A-3.
“From the eyes of the staff, we again will have sights on contending for conference champs. That will be doable but harder due to Marked Tree being added this year,” Ridgefield Christian coach Blake Thompson said.
Rivercrest and Osceola remain in 3A-3 a season after reaching the state title game in 2020. Corning, Gosnell, Hoxie, Manila, Piggott and Walnut Ridge also return to 3A-3, while Harrisburg moves into the league from 3A-2. Newport remains in 3A-2.
In Class 4A, Trumann is new to the 4A-3 while Wynne remains in 4A-5.
The Yellowjackets’ accomplishments last season included the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Division 2 championship, the 2A-3 district tournament championship and a second-place finish in the North Region tournament.
Bay whipped eventual state champion England by 29 points during the regular season. The Yellowjackets defeated Junction City in the first round of the state tournament before losing a rematch to England to finish with a 29-9 record.
Jones, a 5-11 senior, averaged 14 points and three assists per game. He scored 29 points in the NEA tournament final against Tuckerman and had 41 points in two state tournament games, including 28 against England.
Hartley, a 6-1 senior guard, averaged 14 points and five rebounds. He scored 37 points in two state tournament games, including 20 against Junction City.
Bay’s lineup also includes 6-1 junior forward Tyler Fraley, 6-0 senior guard Daniel Huey and 5-11 senior guard Zeke Davis. Korbyn Hoyt, a 5-11 sophomore forward, and Alex Belcher, a 6-0 sophomore forward, are also in coach Brad Brannen’s rotation.
Brannen said the Yellowjackets need to pick up some experience.
“In a tough conference we will battle each night. Our goal is to get better every night and try to be there at the end of the year,” Brannen said. “We are playing for February. If we improve and get there, we have a chance.”
Buffalo Island Central
The Mustangs return three starters and add a big sophomore class after finishing 18-16 overall and 6-8 in the 2A-3.
Jesse Kinard, a 6-4 senior guard, averaged 20 points per game to earn all-state honors last season. Brayden Carmichael, a 6-3 junior forward, added 12 points per game and Kinard said 6-1 senior forward Eli Couch is a great defender.
Burrow, a 6-3 sophomore guard, has already made a significant impact that included a 25-point effort against Sloan-Hendrix and a 27-point night against Crowley’s Ridge Academy. BIC’s starting lineup also includes 6-10 junior Caden Whitehead, who missed last season with an injury.
Other newcomers who are expected to contribute include 6-0 guard Nathan Brinkley, 5-9 guard Grady Peel and 6-2 junior forward Luis Reta. In addition to Burrow, the Mustangs’ sophomore class includes 5-7 guard Dawson Stewart, 5-10 forward Parker Anderson, 5-8 guard Jack Edwards and 6-5 forward Lathan Crane.
“If it stays healthy, this team could make a serious conference and state title run,” BIC coach Mike Kinard said.
Campbell, who is less than 10 wins away from 900 in his career, expects a much-improved team after the Rebels finished 12-18 overall and 6-8 in the 2A-3 last season.
Riverside returns three starters. M.J. Wilkinson, a 5-10 senior guard, averaged 8.8 points and 1.8 assists last season, while 6-3 senior post Ethan Boatman added 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Brennen Laird, a 5-9 senior guard, averaged 3.7 points per game.
The Rebels’ starting five also includes 5-11 senior forward A.J. Chamness and 6-2 sophomore post Dennis Williams.
Campbell said the Rebels have decent size and quickness, plus plenty of shooters.
Other returnees from last season’s team include 5-9 junior forward Trae Barnes, 6-0 junior forward J.M. Shinall, 5-10 junior forward Easton Hatch, 5-11 junior forward Carl Gallapoo and 6-1 junior forward Briley Bryan.
Newcomers include 5-8 junior forward Nick Bounds and a sophomore class of Williams, 5-11 forward Cameron Austin, 5-6 forward Elijah Barroso, 5-10 forward Logan Ridge and 5-7 forward Kenley Sanders.
All-state point guard Garrett Finnicum returns to lead the Warriors, who were 22-13 overall last season and shared the 1A-3 regular-season championship with Hillcrest. Ridgefield won its second consecutive NEA Division 1 championship last season.
Senior wing player Isaiah Ellenburg, another double-digit scorer who averaged eight rebounds, also earned all-conference honors. Noah Stracener, a 6-4 junior forward/center; Tyler Fronzaglio, a 6-1 junior guard; and Wil Archer, a 5-6 junior guard, are also in the Warriors’ starting lineup.
“Transitional and floor speed will always be a strength when Garrett is manning the floor,” said Blake Thompson, who is entering his seventh season as the Warriors’ head coach. “We will be more solid this year with an inside presence when Isaiah and Noah are in together as well.
“We feel that our man-to-man offense will be more effective with our rotation this year, but expect to see more zones based on matchups.”
Nicholas Gillham and Matt McAdams, two junior wing players, also return. The Warriors add sophomores Tanner Lewis and Jacob Carter along with freshman Doss McDaniel.