Swift takes Hurricane back to the top

Swift

JONESBORO — Coach Wes Swift recalled a preseason conversation with senior guards Keyln McBride and Ryan Rouse when asked about the Jonesboro Hurricane closing the season with 20 consecutive victories and a Class 5A state championship.

The past two seasons, Swift said he told McBride and Rouse the Hurricane hadn’t finished the way it had in previous seasons, and he put a lot of that on himself. Jonesboro was still a state tournament team in 2019 and 2020, but didn’t quite meet the high standards set during Swift’s tenure with the Hurricane.

“I lost a little bit of my holding kids accountable to the level that I normally hold them. Now our culture never got bad, but it wasn’t the way it was before they got to high school and that was on me, and I don’t even want to go into the reasons why,” Swift said. “Everybody has those valleys and I had a little valley the last two years as a coach. I said, ‘I’ve got to get that swagger back, it’s got to be my vision of toughness, not y’all’s vision of toughness.’

“They said, ‘Coach, we want to do whatever it takes to have a chance to make a run at this thing.’”

The Hurricane’s run concluded in Hot Springs with a 58-56 victory over Maumelle and their fourth state championship in 12 seasons under Swift, the Best Under The Sun Coach of the Year. The Jonesboro coach was also announced Wednesday as the winner of the Outstanding Coach Award in boys’ basketball by the Arkansas High School Coaches Association.

Jonesboro’s last loss in a 24-3 season came in overtime Dec. 29 at eventual Class 6A state champion North Little Rock, which overcame a six-point deficit in the final 30 seconds of regulation and eventually prevailed 87-83.

North Little Rock was also the last team to reach 60 points against the Hurricane. Little Rock Central, the Class 6A state runner-up, was the only other team to score 60 or more against Jonesboro.

“I think our on-ball defense was as good this year, collectively, as probably any team that I’ve had,” Swift said. “We’ve had those lockdown defenders like Marquise Pointer and those type of guys, but collectively we had a lot of guys who could guard the ball, were willing to guard the ball. I think that’s probably what made us as good as what we were.”

Jonesboro gave up only 45 points per game and held opponents under 40 in 12 games.

Marion, the 5A-East runner-up and one of the state’s top teams in its own right, finished with 38 points in its first meeting with Jonesboro. Russellville, the 5A-West champion, mustered only 28 against the Hurricane.

“They just grew on the defensive end, it seemed like, every game and their confidence just got better and better,” Swift said. “I think we played our best game of the year in the (state) semifinals against Little Rock Parkview. Holding them to seven points in a half was just unreal for a team that came in averaging 72 points a game. That’s probably where I’m most proud of this team, just watching them grow defensively.”

McBride and junior guard Jesse Washington led the Hurricane offensively by averaging 16.3 and 12.8 points, respectively. Amarion Wilson, Kavon Pointer and Isaac Harrell averaged from 7.8 to 6.7 points.

Jonesboro has made seven appearances in the state finals under Swift, who has a 279-78 record with the Hurricane. His 26-year record at Gillett, Hughes, Lonoke and Jonesboro is 540-240, and he also coached state championship teams at Hughes (2001) and Lonoke (2008).

This year’s championship run ended with five games against what Swift described as a “who’s who” in 5A basketball. Jonesboro escaped Marion 52-47 in the 5A-East tournament final, scoring the final seven points, and survived Central No. 4 seed Jacksonville 62-57 in double overtime to start the state tournament.

The Hurricane dispatched West No. 2 seed Mountain Home 55-37 in the quarterfinals and routed Central champion Parkview 58-40 in the semifinals. Jonesboro built a 16-point halftime lead in the finals against Central No. 3 seed Maumelle before holding on at the finish.

“That’s a stretch of five games right there where a lot of teams, if you said they had that stretch in the middle of the season, they’d be saying, ‘If we go 2-3, we’re pretty good, we’re OK, and if we’re 3-2, we’ve had a really good run,’” Swift said. “To end it with 5-0 against that competition, that’s what I’ll remember about this team and their level of toughness.”