John Essex to host holiday tournament

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

After their season-opening 71-59 loss to Aliceville last week, the John Essex boys basketball team is anxious to return to the floor. That opportunity will come tonight when the team hosts A.L. Johnson in the final game of the team’s second annual John Essex Pre-Thanksgiving Classic.

“It’s going to let us see the personnel,” head coach Rodney Dixon said of the tournament game against the Hornets’ regional foe. “It’s going to let us see our weaknesses. It’s also going to let the boys get some revenge from that loss at Aliceville.”

According to Dixon, the Hornets, who opened at home last Friday night, were pleased with the support they received from their fan base.

“We’ve got the community giving us support this year. We had a packed house. It was filled to capacity,” Dixon, who is in his first year with the team after serving as a graduate assistant for West Alabama last season, said of the Friday night turnout. “It gives them a lot of motivation to know that their community and peers are behind them.”

While the team looks to its fan support for an emotional lift, its biggest boost on the floor likely comes in the party of senior Zackary Fluker.

“He makes my job real easy,” Dixon said of the cerebral point guard who dumped in 24 points and dished out eight assists in the season opener. “He’ll tell me when he thinks I’m wrong. But he knows his role though.”

Dixon credits Fluker, his team captain, with being a leader both on and off the court.

“The guys all respect him. He makes sure everybody’s here,” Dixon said. “People like him don’t come around everyday. But every good team does have somebody like him.”

Fluker’s effort Friday was complemented by junior Preston Parker, who posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. They will likely be tested today by a gritty Eagle lineup.

“They’re going to have a lot of short, quick guards,” Dixon said of A.L. Johnson. “They’ve got one good scorer. They run a man-to-man defense. Even though they’re small, they’ve got a lot of intensity.”

Dixon’s team is also focused on defending the home court.

“It adds a whole lot to it,” he said of the added incentive of serving as hosts of the event. “We want to be hospitable to every team, but in the end, we want to win.”

Small in number, the Hornets struggled through a season on the gridiron in which they were continually out-manned on Friday nights. Dixon said basketball provides many of his players an opportunity to erase such unpleasant memories.

“Morale during football was hard because we did lose many games,” Dixon said before turning his attention to the hardwood squad. “We’ve got a lot of expectations this year.”

The Hornets will look to fight their way through an area that includes the likes of Linden, Sunshine and Sweet Water, as well as tonight’s opponent.

“Basically what we’re going to have to do is come in, man up and play hard,” Dixon said.