ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL TOURNEY PROVIDES BIG TEST
When you are the basketball coach at John Curtis, you always have the clear identity of playing second fiddle to the storied Patriots' football program. That is a pleasant problem to have.
While Curtis football is second to none, the Curtis basketball is making its own mark, forging a formidable identity.
John Curtis won the 2A basketball state championship in 2012, downing Riverside for the title. Mike Kracjer guided the Patriots to the 2A quarterfinals last season, losing to eventual state champion Riverside. Curtis reached the regional round in 2009 and 2011.
Curtis returns to the 4th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic for a third straight year January 2-4 at the Alario Center in Westwego, sponsored by SportsNOLA.com.
The Patriots played a light schedule of games early this season while waiting for key football players to join the squad off of yet another state championship in that sport, the 26th overall.
In his 18th year as head coach, Kracjer has presided over a program which has grown annually to become a power, much like its storied football program.
"With the power point system, we have to wait to play games until we have our full roster," Kracjer said. "Last year, we were 6-6 before we got everyone going and it hurt our seeding in the state tournament. It's sad when you have to worry about winning over competing. You have to be careful how you schedule."
The Patriots are led by junior point guard Richard Durant (6'0, 160), an all-state performer, and freshman guard Kai Morgan (6'2, 165), the brother of LSU guard and former Curtis star Malik Morgan.
"Richard has played very well in all early games we have played," Kracjer said. "He has done everything thus far. With the additions, we won't have to ask him to do so much but to have him concentrate more on being a distributor of the ball. He's matured a lot, taking a leadership role."
Kracjer is high on Morgan as well, who was averaging 16 points per game at press time.
"Kai is doing well for being a freshman, being thrown to the wolves by his dumb coach last year," Kracjer said. "He did a really good job at it. He is a young freshman, the proper age, so there is room to grow. He is learning to be a scorer.
The addition of senior guard Raekwon James (5'9 185), a star running back on the football team have infused the Curtis roundball squad.
"He is a four-year starter and a defensive stopper, a true leader," Kracjer said. "He's probably the best defensive player I've ever coached. That's a big key for us."
Another key addition soon will be Malachi Dupre, though he is not expected to play in the Sugar Bowl Tournament. Dupre likely won't play until mid January, due to a hamstring pull suffered in football.
"We will not rush Malachi," Kracjer said. "He has a great future and we will not mess with that. We want him at 100 percent and when he is, he will make an impact for us, much as he did a year ago."
Curtis has also received a huge boost from talented sophomore center Khalea Turner (6'9, 230), who transferred to Curtis from Riverside a year ago. He became eligible at the semester break to bolster the squad, providing size, scoring, rebounding and shot blocking at the rim.
"Khalea has been working hard at practice," Kracjer said. "He is listening diligently to learn what we are trying to accomplish as a basketball team. He is basically a freshman, not playing for a year."
While the Patriots were a force in 2A, they have moved up to 3A, by choice, presenting new rivals.
"I know Carroll is the defending champ is very good in 3A and it is a good class," Kracjer said. "Union Parish is certainly good. I look forward to the challenge. It's a good move for the school. Hopefully, we can compete in 3A like we did in 2A. I think playing the kind of competition we play in the Sugar Bowl tournament will help.
This is the third consecutive year for Curtis in the Sugar Bowl event.
"You all do a wonderful job of bringing in top teams from New Orleans, Louisiana and around the country," Kracjer said. "It is very good and very important for this community. I would love to see more of the community get behind this. We have had some tremendous players and teams here. My thanks to the Allstate Sugar Bowl for making this happen and letting us be part of it."
Now, the Patriots would like to emerge victorious.
"That is always the goal," Kracjer said. "Of course, the immediate goal is to get better from the experience and I know we will."
With the reinforcements nearly all on hand, opponents will again find John Curtis a tough mountain to climb the rest of the season.