Vikings adapt in summer camps without last season’s top scorer

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia High School’s Julius Wilson runs a drill during practice Tuesday.

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia High School’s Julius Wilson runs a drill during practice Tuesday.

VIDALIA — As the Vidalia Vikings’ participation in boys basketball summer camps come to a close this weekend at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Robert Sanders is appreciative of his deep frontcourt.

Admittedly, the Vidalia High School head coach would be even more grateful if his frontcourt had a little bit more size, but he’s thankful nonetheless.

“They are the ones that are in position to get in foul trouble more,” Sanders said. “I hope we can continue to progress, and we’ll be fine.”

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This is new for Sanders, as the mold of recent teams have been backcourt heavy, as last year’s dynamic duo — point guard Isiah Thompson and shooting guard Julius Wilson — averaged 33.1 points of the Vikings’ 57.1 points per game. That’s 58 percent of the Vikings’ offensive production.

In the early goings of the summer, Wilson has shared the responsibility of providing that offensive spark without Thompson by his side.

“I know Isiah is gone, and he was a big piece,” Wilson said. “But everybody just has to go out and do their job. I don’t have any extra weight. We are a great group of guys, and we have chemistry. It’s a team thing. The same weight applies to everyone.”

Unlike the frontcourt, the backcourt is thin with inexperienced bodies behind Wilson and new starter Malik Jefferson.

Sanders said the competition this summer has helped his younger guards grow more acclimated to the game, but the team growth has only just begun.

“We’re looking for some depth,” Sanders said. “Right now, if Malik and Julius go out, we’re going to be hurting. Julius and Malik can both run the offense effectively.”

Jefferson said he’s transitioned as a starter with relative ease, crediting last year’s minutes for the smooth transition. Though he’s capable of scoring, Jefferson, like Wilson, isn’t adding any extra weight on his shoulders by trying to replicate the point-producing Thompson.

“I have two sides of my game,” Jefferson said. “I can score and I can pass, but I’m just all about the win. It doesn’t matter about the points.”

With Thompson graduating, the team will embrace somewhat of a new identity, which Sanders started prepping for last season. During the season, Sanders began playing more and more frontcourt players, which gives him a starting lineup with experience. Overton Lewis and Curtis McNulty have each started in the paint through the summer, and both played a lot last season.

The results have varied thus far. In three summer camps the Vikings have visited this month, Vidalia went 4-1 at LSU-Alexandria’s camp, 2-4 at Southern University’s camp and 3-2 this past weekend at Northwestern University’s camp.

Competition played a factor, as the majority of the Vikings’ opponents have been larger schools. The Vikings recorded two upsets at the Southeastern camp, though, defeating Mckinley High School, who finished in the top 10 of the power rankings in 5A last season and Belair High School, which is a 4A school.

Vidalia assistant Damus Smith said the Vikings were tremendously undersized against the likes of their competition.

“Every guard I saw out there was at least 6’3”,” Smith said.

If you ask Sanders, that’s the point for traveling to these summer camps to begin with. For a few years now, this has been one of Sanders’ keys to manufacturing playoff teams. Facing tough competition in the summer is a great teaching tool for him, and going into his junior season, Wilson is aware of it.

“It’s very important,” Wilson said. “It shows us where we stand.”