CUBS LOOK STRONG, EYE TITLES
Call them a budding power.
University High made its mark in football in 2013, reaching the Division II state championship before falling to John Curtis. That came after the Cubs reached the 2A baseball state championship game, falling to Evangel. Now, the boys basketball team is poised to make its mark. The University girls basketball team was the top-seed and reached the semifinals last season while the volleyball squad made the semifinals this year.
Boys basketball is well on its way to big things as well.
In the 2A playoffs, the Cubs lost a tough 64-62 semifinal game to eventual state champion Riverside, a bitter end to an outstanding season in 2012-2013 in which U-High was an impressive 30-3. Of course, the pedigree is there for the Cubs, who won a state championship in 2004 with an 85-52 win over Jeanerette. The Cubs also won the 2A title in 2002 and captured the 1A state championship in 1983 and 1984.
University is one of 14 teams slated to participate in the prestigious 4th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic, sponsored by sportsNOLA.com, January 2-4 at the Alario Center in Westwego.
Head coach Joe Spencer and his basketball Cubs are poised to make their own noise this season, starting off 9-2, including an eight-game win streak. The only losses were to defending 5A state champion Scotlandville and Tara.
"I hope we can establish our mark in basketball as well," Spencer said. "We have brought in former state championship team members to speak with our current team, to enlighten them about what it takes to win it all. You've got to get there to have a shot to win it, which is never easy. There is a winning culture in the school with how well we are doing in all sports right now. I believe it carries over from one sport to the other."
The Cubs have faced tough competition early with the likes of Scotlandville, East Ascension and Tara.
"We knew we would have to toughen our schedule since we moved up to 3A, where there are many more good teams and Curtis moved up as well and they are quite good," Spencer said. "You have to earn everything at this level. There were very good teams in 2A though not as many."
University is led by sophomore forward Wayde Sims (6'6, 205), who had 22 points and 13 rebounds against Riverside in last year's semifinal contest to cap a brilliant freshman season. Sophomore forward. D.J. White (6'5, 220) is a returning star as well. Unfortunately, sophomore forward Jalen Johnson is out with a leg injury and may not play this year.
"Wayde is a heck of a player," Spencer said. "He has expanded his game to where he can play more on the perimeter. Skylar Mays (6'2, 180) is our point guard, a sophomore who averaged eight assists last year. We have to encourage him to shoot more. D.J. started since eighth grade. Wayde has already attracted lots of attention from several universities."
The University roster is littered with freshmen and sophomores, indicating a young team but one which is quite gifted.
"While we are young, we play beyond our years because we have played together since eighth grade," Spencer said. "It is still a learning curve. We have some guys coming off the bench that have not played varsity basketball previously. That is the challenge, developing depth."
Junior center Maxwell Starwood (6'7, 220) gives University great size. John Jones (5'10, 150) is the fifth starter. If the name sounds familiar, it should. He is the son of LSU's Johnny Jones.
"We played in the McKinley Tournament and we are going to a tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida before we go to the Sugar Bowl Tournament," Spencer said. "There is no doubt that this schedule was not built to compile a big winning record but to make us better."
The Cubs are eagerly looking forward to coming to New Orleans.
"I know the competition in the Sugar Bowl tournament is top-notch," Spencer said. "It is close to home and that is nice. We played Riverside in the regular season and in the playoffs and we got hooked up with Coach (Timmy) Byrd and that is where the interest started. This will definitely help get us ready for the playoffs. "I've heard great things about the tournament and the way it was put on so we are really happy to be in it and be part of it."
Don't be surprised to see the Cubs make their mark in the Sugar Bowl Classic as well.
"We are certainly coming to try to win," Spencer said.