Coming into this high school basketball season, it would have been tough to predict how important this Friday’s game between Riverside Military Academy and Lakeview Academy would be. After all, the Lions were coming off three straight seasons going undefeated in Region 8-A play, while the Eagles had won barely more than half of their region games during the same span.
But with the two teams coming into the contest tied for first in the region with 6-1 marks against Region 8-A opponents, you can throw all the history out the window.
For Riverside Military Academy — which will travel a little over two miles down the road to play the Lions at Lakeview Academy — the game represents an opportunity to take control of the region for the first time since coach Marvin Latham took over ahead of the 2015-2016 season. Yet despite the raised stakes, Latham said he and his team aren’t preparing for the game with any added trepidation.
“We’ve been approaching it over here like it’s not going to make or break the season,” Latham said. “Sure we’d like to go over there and get a win, but we want to get a win in every game we play. We’re approaching it as just another work week for us.”
Lakeview Academy coach Todd Cottrell is taking a similar approach.
“I think it’ll be an exciting game,” he said. “I think it’s two excellent teams with a little different styles, a little different way of playing. And I do think it’s a big game. But there’s a lot of basketball still to be played.”
Still, neither coach could deny that taking a victory Friday night would be a massive step toward claiming the top seed in February’s region tournament, the winner earning an inside track to that opportunity.
Cottrell said Riverside Military Academy’s superior athleticism would be perhaps the greatest road block to making sure his team ends up on the winning side of Friday’s game.
“They have guys that can do things that not very many people in our league can do,” he said. “They have good size, good quickness, good skill.”
Finding a way to slow down the Eagles’ rangy, athletic team is a conundrum Cottrell is still trying to work out.
“Outside of telling the guys who are going to college afterwards to all go ahead and leave, I don’t know,” he joked. “Maybe we can tell them we’re playing at 8 and they show up late? I really don’t know. A team like that is a great challenge because they can do so many things. I don’t know if there’s an answer to that.”
For Latham, staying focused on both offense and defense will be key to preventing the Lions from running away with a win.
Lakeview Academy has an opportunistic defense that will take advantage of every little mistake and force plenty of turnovers, according to Latham.
“They like to turn the ball over and get you to make mistakes on offense,” Latham said. “Also, they’re going to score. They shoot well, especially in their gym. For us, defensively, we’ve just got to stay focused, stay locked in deep into defensive possessions and just do what we do.”
With both teams enjoying great success so far this year, the contest projects to be tightly contested. But a win would have vastly different meaning for each side.
For Lakeview Academy, it would be a continuation of the dominance the Lions have had over their region for the past four years. Lakeview Academy is 49-1 in its last 50 games against Region 8-A foes.
But for the Eagles, it would be a tangible symbol of the growth the program has had under Latham’s tenure. Three seasons earlier, Latham said he and his coaching staff decided to place a concerted effort on maintaining continuity within the team.
Cornerstone players like Khalid Duke and Isaac Teasley have since become staples of a group that is playing its best basketball in recent memory.
Taking down the Lions is not the end goal for Latham and his team. But it is the next step for them to take to reach a similar level of success as Lakeview Academy has enjoyed in recent seasons.
“I think everybody in our region strives to be like Lakeview Academy,” Latham said. “You want to go four years with one loss in region. That’s pretty successful. They’re kind of like up on top of the hill with all of the rest of us in the region striving to get there. It’s going to be big for us.”