By Rubin E. Grant
Spain Park boys basketball coach Chris Laatsch would prefer that his team fly under the radar right now, but that’s going to be difficult because of the way the Jaguars are playing.
The Jags improved to 10-0 Friday with a 47-46 victory against crosstown rival Hoover Bucs on Senior Night at Spain Park.
It was the latest impressive victory in the first month of the season for the Jags. They knocked off Mountain Brook 67-63 in double overtime on Nov. 17 and three days later defeated Oak Mountain 52-45. Mountain Brook, which has dropped down to Class 6A this season, was the Class 7A runner-up last season and Oak Mountain was a Class 7A semifinalist.
Even Laatsch realizes the Jags’ early season success hasn’t gone undetected.
“The guys are getting a lot of compliments from people and they are starting to get a lot of confidence,” Laatsch said. “I am not shocked about the way we’re playing. I hope we can keep it going.”
The Jags figured to be a Class 7A contender this season. They reached the Northwest Regional championship game last season before falling 41-34 to Mountain Brook, coming up a game short of advancing to the state tournament and finishing 20-13.
Spain Park graduated four seniors from that team but return all five starters from the regional final loss to Mountain Brook, including explosive 6-foot-4 senior Cam Crawford and 6-foot-8 junior center James Lambert. Both are college prospects.
Crawford leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game, and Lambert is second, scoring 12.6 points per game. They also lead the team in rebounding, both averaging more than 5.0 rebounds per game.
The other three starters are 5-foot-8 junior guard Josh Harrington, whom Laatsch describes as a playmaker, 6-foot-4 senior forward Braden Diclemente, a deft shooter, and versatile 6-foot-3 senior guard James Lambert.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with experience who work hard and play with passion,” Laatsch said. “We have good camaraderie and guys are buying in to what we’re doing. They play selflessly and understand that it takes all of them for us to be successful.”
Senior guards Blake Hay and Blake Floyd are two other notable players.
Floyd transferred from Pelham, where his dad, Joel, served as the head coach. Joel Floyd is now an assistant on the Spain Park staff. Laatsch said Blake Floyd started every game at Pelham.
“He brings a lot of experience,” Laatsch said. “Harrington and him will do most of the ballhandling.”
Three other seniors – Dawson Defalco, Deacon George and Jax Hovanec – are key reserves. Defalco scored eight points off the bench in the win over Hoover. Sophomores Zach Gray, a 6-foot-5 forward, and Caldwell Bussey, a 6-foot-2 forward, round out the roster.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can do some things,” Laatsch said. “We’ve got guys who can make the three and attack the basket.”
The Jags had three games scheduled this week, Tuesday at Thompson, Friday at Homewood and Saturday at home against Huffman, as they attempt to remain unbeaten.
Spain Park will compete in Class 7A, Area 6 along with Vestavia Hills, Hewitt-Trussville and Gadsden City.
Vestavia Hills also has gotten off to a hot start at 9-0. Gadsden City is 6-1 and Hewitt-Trussville is 3-6 but is getting a boost from a few players who missed the early part of the schedule while playing football.
“We’ve got four good teams in our area,” Laatsch said. “Vestavia looks really similar to us. They’re impressive. Gadsden City has some good athletes and Hewitt is playing better.
“I don’t know how we measure up with them, but our goal is to win a state championship.”