East Lincoln Mustangsâ€™ basketball coach Neil Hodges is back on the sideline for the Green and Orange this season. Hodges missed all of last year as he cared for his ailing wife Dee, who has since passed away after battling breast cancer last year. He is happy to be back.
â€œIâ€™m enjoying it very much. The kids, the community and everybody were so supportive. Having gone through that, Iâ€™m a better person and the people have supported me 100 percent. Iâ€™m eager and ready to go to work. I appreciate that so very much and itâ€™s nice to be able to give back to them by coaching their kids.â€
Two starters return for the Mustangs: senior point guard Darin Dellinger and senior forward Carlos Marquez-Sykes. Both players will be vital to the Mustangsâ€™ success.
Hodges believes that as Dellinger goes, so to will East Lincoln.
â€œHeâ€™s a good player. Heâ€™s been a three-year starter at point guard. He started off against West Lincoln and did a nice job for us. I think heâ€™s going to be our leader for us and do a good job all year,â€ he said.
At 6â€™4â€ 250 pounds, Marquez-Sykes provides a stable post presence by being able to rebound the ball and score. While he has the ability, Hodges believes his conditioning isnâ€™t quite there yet on the heels of Marquez-Sykes playing basketball.
â€œHeâ€™s a big kid who still hasnâ€™t gotten his legs yet. We really need for him to average 10 and 10. If he can do that, it certainly would go a long way in making us have a good team.â€
Other returnees are Josh Davis, Jamelle Lowery and Jason Smith. Lowery, only a junior, has shown the ability to score the basketball. With T.J. Smith graduated, heâ€™ll be looked to as a scorer even more.
Hodges is looking for a balanced effort on the offensive end of the court. In his words, â€˜The outside game can open up the middle, just like the inside game can open up the outside.â€™
â€œIn order to be a good team, we need to be able to play a half-court game and play up tempo when the opportunity presents itself. We canâ€™t be one dimensional. We have to have a balance between our inside game and outside game. You have to have kids that can make the outside shot and put the ball in the hole on the inside,â€ he said.
The coach believes that quality opponents wonâ€™t let you turn the game into an up-temp contest, so execution in the half court is essential.
â€œYou have to stop people man-to-man in the half court. Any good team is not going to let you get out and run and convert lay ups, so therefore you have to be able to run your half-court offense,â€ he said.
Worrying about what the other team does, will not be a very big concern for Hodges. Heâ€™s more concerned with what his team is trying to accomplish.
â€œWeâ€™ve worked extremely hard to make ourselves better. The league is very tough and if weâ€™re going to be competitive night-in-and-night out, weâ€™ll have to do the things we can do and not worry too much about what the other team is trying to do
Hodges adheres to certain John Wooden philosophies, particularly the triangle for success, and tries to relay that type of attitude to his team.
â€œOur goal is to be the best we can be. We want every player, every coach and every manager to perform at their highest possible level. If we do our absolute best and we give it 100 percent effort, then weâ€™ll be successful.â€
The Mustangs are 1-0 on the season and will next be in action Tuesday against the same Rebel team they beat in their season opener. by John Mark Brooks