Callans give Braves boost heading into homestand

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

LORMAN &045; Never did Dion Callans think he was in trouble.

Callans and his Alcorn State teammates haven’t started the SWAC portion of their season on solid footing, much to the chagrin of first-year head coach Sam West. But Callans admitted he got an earful from the new coach who is trying awfully hard &045; as any first-year coach will do &045; to get the team going with the right chemistry and right execution.

Why Callans?

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Well, if you know him, you’d understand.

&uot;He said some words to me,&uot; said Callans, the senior forward who finished with eight points but drew praises from West following the Braves’ 64-51 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. &uot;He just said I needed to step up. I like challenges. I needed to step it up to another notch. I didn’t do much offensively, but I think it was my best game of the year as far as a complete game. I took four charges, and I don’t think I got scored on.&uot;

Leave it to Callans, the guy from Chicago who can get everyone pumped up as quicker than you can say Bolo Tolbert. He’s only the third-leading scorer on the team, but he leads in rebounds, starts and other intangibles that you’ve got to look hard on a stat sheet to find.

&uot;We talked about the Martin Luther King holiday and the things he stood for,&uot; West said. &uot;It’s the same qualities we have in this basketball program. Dion is the fire of our team. He challenged his teammates to respond, and they put it in the words of Bolo. He said we’re going to go mono e mono &045; man on man &045; and let’s see who’s better. Dion gave the challenge, and they responded.&uot;

It spurred the Braves on after they trailed at halftime to UAPB, perennially one of the weaker team if not weakest in the conference. But more importantly it got the Braves off their three-game skid heading into this weekend’s homestand against Alabama State Saturday and Alabama A&M Monday.

&uot;We’re starting to run our offense a little more,&uot; forward Brian Jackson said. &uot;We were a little bit more patient and were trying to make the other team work on defense, which we hadn’t been doing in the past. We’ve been losing a lot, and it’s not a good feeling. We’re starting to battle back and jell as a team. It started Monday in Arkansas, and hopefully it’ll carry over for the rest of the season.&uot;

The win at Arkansas was a obviously a great relief, but West admitted Saturday’s game may have been a premonition of things to come. Up against a tough Valley squad in Itta Bena, the Delta Devils handed Alcorn a 68-42 loss.

That game the Braves struggled bit time shooting and scored just nine points the entire second half.

&uot;It was great to see the guys come together as a family and play 36 minutes of solid basketball &045; not 40, but it was about 36,&uot; West said. &uot;If we can play 30 or 31 minutes a night of solid basketball, we’d be 10-3 instead of 3-10. I know I keep saying it’s all in God’s time. It’s just a matter of time before we break it wide open. We’re getting close. The execution was there (against Valley).&uot;

The offense, however, sure could use the services of a healthy Jackson, the sharpshooter who led the team scoring and 3-pointers made a season ago. Jackson earned Preseason All-SWAC honors heading into this season, but he’s battled hip problems and just being off shooting.

Jackson, who still leads the team with 12.2 point per game and scored a season-high 28 against Jackson State Jan. 10, didn’t start against Valley but re-aggravated that hip. He came off the bench Monday against UAPB.

&uot;He’s coming,&uot; West said. &uot;BJ is still having to buy into the way I want him to play. It’s taken a little longer, and it’s causing a few problems. But we’re working through it. He had a good practice today. Hopefully he’s ready.&uot;

It’s a matter Jackson didn’t want to discuss, but he said he’s ready to get back to his game along with the rest of his teammates. Up until this point the Braves have gone with a number of different lineups, and turnover problems have been part of the reason for the juggling.

&uot;Everyone is trying to learn their roles,&uot; Jackson said. &uot;We have a lot of young guys, and we’re trying to jell as a team. We’re getting closer and closer every day. Hopefully if we get these two wins, we’ll be in the top two or three in the SWAC.&uot;

The homestand isn’t against two of the better-performing teams in the conference &045; Alabama State is an accustomed 1-4 right now &045; but right now the Braves aren’t taking anyone lightly.

Getting back home is something the Braves feel they have to do. After dropping both in their last homestand &045; including an embarrassing loss to Grambling &045; they might have a little motivation to play well at the Whitney Complex.

So leave it to Callans to issue the challenge.

&uot;We’ve got to show everybody don’t count us out,&uot; Callans said. &uot;We’re still in it to win it. We’ve been in this situation before. You can’t count us out. It’s just time to step up.&uot;