MOUNDS MERIDIAN
BY JACK BULLOCK
Heading into season number three at Mounds Meridian, head coach Erik Griffin has done quite well at the school since his arrival.
In his two previous campaigns his team's went 27-8 while finishing second in the state and then 20-13 (8-0 SEC) with a regional title and a sectional appearance.
Going 47-21 in two seasons is pretty good stuff.
The Bobcats 2016-17 schedule is as difficult as it appears with several major obstacles in the way.
“Our schedule is going to be very tough with games against Collinsville, Mt. Vernon, Marion (twice), Graves County (KY.) and Evansville (IN.) North (Pocket City Showcase opponent) all of which have enrollments over 1000 students,” said Coach Griffin, a 1986 grad of Carrier Mills and a long time assistant coach at Harrisburg before coming to Meridian. “We feel line our out of conference schedule is probably the toughest in southern Illinois for a school our size. In addition, playing the likes of Harrisburg, Madison, Metro East Lutheran, and shootouts in Pinckneyville and Charleston (MO.) hopefully should have us ready when the postseason rolls around.”
For this Bobcats' squad, he and his staff will have three graduated seniors to replace, including leading scorer Daniel Valentine. Ricky Jetter and Jerrett Sims have also left the program.
The good news is that four starters a back from the club that fell to Woodlawn, 69-54 in the semifinals of the Gallatin County 1A Sectional.
Damareon Nicholson, a junior, is the top returning scorers from a high scoring team (11.1 p.p.g.).
Six-foot-five senior Byron Nesby, who as a sophomore was a key reserve on the second place finishing team in 2015, is back.
Nesby averaged 8.7 points a game as a junior forward.
Darnell Lowe, a 6-foot-5 ½ junior, also is back after pouring in 8.6 points a night.
Six-foot-one senior guard Jabare Patrick (5.1 p.p.g.) also was a starter for the Bobcats last winter.
Coach Griffin has some other players ready for their shot at the title with 6-foot-3 senior guard TJ Nichols, who netted five points a game, and 5-foot-9 senior guard Jonathan White (2.0 p.p.g.) returning.
Malik Pratt, a 5-foot-9 senior and 6-foot junior transfer Ja'Quan Jones (Cape Girardeau (MO.) Central) should help with backcourt duties while 6-foot-4 junior forward Desmond Vasser, 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Eddie Robertson will help provide depth on what is usually a deep bench at Mounds Meridian.
If those weren't enough, Coach Griffin has some other kids interested in playing time, which will make the preseason practices something to watch.
TJ Green, a 6-foot sophomore, along with 6-foot forward George Rayford and 5-foot-7 sophomore Norris Young will be in the running.
“We have six players returning who saw a lot of action last year but still have several unanswered questions. Three players who possibly will see quite a bit of time have never played high school basketball and some only saw limited action last year,” added Coach Griffin. “With our schedule increasing in strength, we are going to take some lumps along the way, especially early. It will be important for our kids to focus on doing the little things each night out and take something positive from every regular season game so we are playing our best basketball when it matters the most.”
2017-18 VARSITY SCHEDULE
N20-25 Pyramid Plus Tournament @ Marion J15-20 Benton Invitational Tournament

D1

@ Marion Agape Christian J26 @ Joppa
D5 Ullin Century J27 Pinckneyville Showcase
D8 Cobden J30 Jackson (MO.) Saxony Lutheran
D9 Harrisburg F2 Elkville Elverado
D12 @ Dongola F3 Charleston (MO.) Shootout
D16 Granite City Gateway Academy F9 @ Wolf Lake Shawnee
D27-29 Carbondale Holiday Tournament F10 @ Marion
J6 @ Graves County (KY.) F16 @ Tamms Egyptian
J13 MLK Shootout F19-23 IHSA Regional TBD