New Panola College head basketball coach Aaron Smith didn’t find the cupboards exactly bare when he took over, but he has had to do some major restocking.
The Ponies only had four players returning from last year’s 23-9 season and Smith is only keeping one of them — sophomore Kamari Brown.
He hit the ground running and is almost satisfied with the team he has put together, bringing four players with him from Jacksonville College, a Division I transfer from Cal State Northridge, a transfer from Gulf Coast State Junior College and five freshmen.
“It’s been great so far and I really love it here at Panola,” said Smith, who was 84-35 with three 20-win seasons at Jacksonville. “I’ve been utilizing all the assets I have here and have put together a pretty good team.
“I’m looking for guys who want to play hard and work hard. I’m still on the lookout for a few more.”
Brown is a 6-3 guard from Tallahassee, Florida, who averaged 10.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game last season for the Ponies, starting 10 games.
“Kamari was real good for them last year,” Smith said. “He’s a great kid. We need him to make shots. He’s proven he’s an athlete.”
The Division I transfer is Teddy Ochieng from Nairbo, Kenya by way of Cal-State Northridge. The 6-8 forward, who is on the Under 18 National Team in Kenya, played in just four games last year for the Matadors before injuring an ankle that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
He averaged 2 points and 2.8 boards in 11 minutes a game.
The players he previously coached at Jacksonville include: Jermaine Drewey, a 6-2 shooting guard from Houston; Stanton Rose, a 6-2 point guard from Guyana; Kelyn Pennie, a 5-10 point guard from South Grand Prairie; and Christopher Coley, a 6-6 forward from Evergreen, Alabama.
Smith said Drewey is a left-hander, who can shoot fairly well. He averaged 9.2 points a game. Rose is the captain of the Guyana national team and averaged 5.4 points and 2.5 assists a game.
Pennie averaged 8.2 points and 2.0 assists. Coley averaged 5.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game.
The other JUCO transfer is Jerrel Kelly, a 6-8 forward from Gulf Coast State, who average 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds a game for a 14-15 team.
Drewey, Brown and Kelly will all be playing in invitation-only, select showcase for junior college players this weekend.
Of his high school players, Smith found one fairly close to home in Jacoby Decker, a 5-8 guard from Bossier City.
“He’s one of the top players in Louisiana,” Smith said. “I really like this group coming in. The freshman want to work and want to help us build on what’s already been built here at Panola.”
School starts in late August and the team can work on a few things right away, but full team workouts don’t start until Oct. 1
“The freshmen are ready to help. The transfers have been there and know what is expected of them,” Smith said. “Hopefully we’ll bring to the table a group that will work hard and make the community proud.”