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Hornets head to ALJ Classic

JEFFERSON — While their classmates were off enjoying Christmas break, the John Essex boys basketball players were in the gym three times week in preparation for tonight’s game in the A.L. Johnson Classic.

The game will mark the team’s first competition since last Friday night’s 68-66 win over area foe Sweet Water.

“It’s got us very high,” head coach Rodney Dixon said of the after-effects of the of the win. “There’s a lot of energy.”

The win came just one night after Dixon’s Hornets dropped their first area game of the year in a road loss to Sunshine. Initially, there were concerns regarding how the Hornets’ confidence would respond after the loss.

“It wasn’t ever down,” senior Zackary Fluker, who hit the game-winning shot against Sweet Water, said of the team’s confidence. “I don’t think our confidence was ever down.”

The Hornets will need that swagger as they work through a slate of formidable non-area games that will take them into the A.L. Johnson tournament tonight, the Demopolis High tournament Saturday and a tournament at Choctaw County High Monday.

“These games are going to let us know if we can play with everybody in 1A,” Dixon said. “If we get wins in these contests, it’s going to help us out to know exactly where we’re at.”

Dixon said he hopes the stretch of games will help his team be prepared for the second-half of its area tilt, which will see it go on the road for three out of four games.

The one game his team will host in that run is against the same Sunshine squad that handed the Hornets their only area loss thus far this year.

“To beat Sunshine, we’ve got to be on the whole night, defense and offense,” Dixon said.

Part of the offensive execution will be getting players other than Fluker going on a consistent basis.

“Zack’s pretty consistent every night,” Dixon said.

While no genuine second scoring option has emerged for JEHS, Dixon is more enamored with the fact that his roster boasts an array of weapons capable of striking for double digits on any given night.

To this point, the Hornets have seen seven players score in double figures. In fact, Fluker’s 18-points-per-game average is complemented by Letrell Griffin’s nine points per game, A.J. Bennett’s 6.8 points per game and Preston Parker’s 6.7 points per game.

“It could be anybody,” Dixon said.

Parker is also averaging 10 rebounds per contest.

While scoring from the field has gotten some of Dixon’s attention, the first-year head coach has spent much of the week concentrating on other aspects of the game, such as free throw shooting.

“We still want to work on our press defense and breaking the press,” Dixon said. “We need to work more on our zone offenses.”

Dixon expressed the need for his team to find balance as he understands opponents will learn to better defense his squad as the team moves into the thicker portions of its schedule and readies for area tournament play.