Ant Lasker has been the head boys basketball coach at Hot Springs since 2018, and he has no idea what it feels like to see his team participate in a meaningful contest during the month of November.
There's a perfectly good explanation for that.
"This year has been the most trying because of nine out of my projected top 10 in my rotation are all in football right now," he said Thursday during the second day of the Arkansas High School Basketball Media Days at First Community Bank in Little Rock. "So most of the guys that are with me now are projected [junior varsity], back of the rotation, maybe man 11, 12 or 13 type of guys. And those guys are working hard, and I don't want to take anything away from them, but everything we're hinging our season on is all in football.
"It's difficult, but I've gotten used to it because this is what it is at Hot Springs. We share athletes, and that's perfectly fine. But at the same time, for a basketball coach, this is my sixth season here, and I've never played a November basketball game."
That won't change this year either, especially with the kind of season the Trojans are having on the football field. Hot Springs is 7-1 and tied with Camden Fairview and Hot Springs Lakeside for second place in the 5A-South Conference. That scenario makes it a little easier for Lasker to stomach because of the success, but it sure doesn't make it easier for him to hold a practice with the players he's counting on to lead his team.
The Trojans return a bevy of talent from a team that went 20-9 and finished second in the league behind eventual state champion Pine Bluff. Octavious Rhodes, Kendell Williams and Tyrell Honey -- all of whom accompanied Lasker to Thursday's event -- were integral parts of that team and figure to again be the catalysts, at least whenever they're able to get in the gym.
"It's trying. It's taxing," Lasker said. "We kind of put all of eggs in that one basket in December. Unfortunately, our conference decided to add a ninth team where we have to play conference games in December, but we make the best out of it.
"We're not going to complain. I'm going to put my head and down, and we're gonna go to work with whoever we have."
Deja vu for champs
A return to normal will be one of the central themes for defending Class 6A girls champion Conway this season, kind of.
The Lady Wampus Cats were blessed with size the past four seasons mainly because of the presence of 6-4 center Savannah Scott, who's now a freshman at Auburn. But this year, Conway will be a little on the small end, which isn't exactly out of the ordinary.
"Before we had Savannah being 6-4 and a dominant post player, we were in the state championship four years, and three years in a row," Conway Coach Ashley Hutchcraft said. "And we were very small. I've always said that during those years, I was the tallest player on the team at 5-10, and that's the case this year. We're tiny."
Hutchcraft may indeed be the tallest person roaming Conway's sidelines, but she'll have star power with her regardless, starting with multi-sport star Alexis Cox and her fellow junior leaders Samyah Jordan and Emerie Bohanon. The three may be the team's most athletic players, and that's a good thing for Hutchcraft because she's expecting the rest of the Lady Wampus Cats to follow their lead.
"We're going to have to play, what I'd like to say is Conway basketball," she said. "We're going to have to play fast. ... I look forward to that. Obviously we're gonna miss size like Savannah, but it's fun to watch."
Staying on track
Year 1 for Monty Patel as eStem's head coach was filled with highs and lows, and none of that surprised him.
Patel's rebuild with the Mets is full-speed ahead in his second season, and he's hoping that his group can continue to move in the right direction after finishing 12-24 last year.
"I'm excited, and I think all of our kids are excited," he said. "We are taking on a brutal schedule. According to my notes, we're in five tournaments, we're playing six top-100 players, playing 17 with Division I offers. I've told our kids before, I don't care to schedule fluff games. I want us to get better, I want us to get ready for conference."
Conference play will again be stout for eStem, which is one of the smallest schools in Class 5A. The Mets, though, have gravitated to challenges since Patel took over, and it's a pretty good bet that they'll continue to do so as he tries to push them and the program forward.
"We want our kids to be seen," he said. "At the end of the day in my opinion, we have six guys right now in our program that can play some level of college basketball from Division I to junior college to Division II. They need to be seen. I told them wins and losses don't make a difference in the nonconference.
"That's what's getting us ready, giving us film to see what happens during adversity."
Eric Teague built a powerhouse at Melbourne, and he fully intends on doing the same at Bryant.
After a nine-year run at his alma mater, Teague was hired in June to take over the Lady Hornets after Shanae Govan Williams resigned to become the head women's coach at Coahoma (Miss.) Community College. During his time at Melbourne, Teague went 179-22 and guided the Lady Bearkatz to four straight state titles from 2019-22.
Although he admitted it was tough leaving a place he's always loved, he embraced what awaited at Bryant. After nearly five months on the job, he's in the midst of placing his stamp on the team.
"I was at Melbourne for nine years, and we won a lot of games, but it took a lot of time to get there," Teague said. "The process was the same when I got to Melbourne as it is right now. [Players] have to understand the language I'm using and the process I'm wanting to go through. That process takes a little time."
Bryant lost four starters from a year ago, but it does return guard Brilynn Findley, a Delta State commit. Her presence has given Teague even more incentive to get the Lady Hornets going in the appropriate direction.
"Brilynn's a senior, and I don't want her to think we're in a rebuild process right now," he said. "We want to win right now for her. ... We want to get that process rolling and get to a point where they're going to be successful this year.
"Not for the future, but it's to happen right now."
Replenishing in effect
A lot of production is gone from Sheridan's team last season, but Coach Joe Scott is full of optimism.
The Yellowjackets lost eight seniors and have one starter back -- Addison Reynolds. But Scott said he's got players waiting in the wings who are capable of picking up the slack.
"We lost a lot of what we had from last year, and some new guys are now having to be asked to step into new roles, step up from what they've done in the previous years," he said. "We lost 93% of our scoring from last year, and that's a lot of scoring and a lot of production that we need to find."
Justin Crews and Peyton Free were Sheridan's leading scorers last season, but both are logging time on collegiate rosters. This year, Reynolds, along with Canon Crosswhitr, are two that will be tasked to help fill the void. Nathan Carter, a transfer from White Hall, and Gavin Hopson are others that Scott noted will be in line for breakout seasons.
"We like the team that we've got coming in," he said. "We like the kids that are ready to step up in these roles."