501 Basketball 2023

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WELCOME TO 501 BASKETBALL!

501 Basketball is a special publication of 501 LIFE Magazine that celebrates a group of exceptional high school players in Central Arkansas. We are honored to announce 47 student-athletes who earned the right to join this exclusive team: The 501 LIFE Basketball Team 2022-2023. The nominations were weighted equally between on- and off-the-court attributes.

Our talented writers, Levi Gilbert and Mark Oliver, interviewed each player and their coach and wrote a feature that is included in this magazine and on our website, 501lifemag.com. Each player will also make an appearance in our February 501 EXTRA and 501 EXTRA SPORTS e-newsletters, which are published each Tuesday and Thursday to email subscribers. You can sign up for these complimentary newsletters in seconds by visiting 501lifemag.com/newsletter. Additionally, each player will be featured on our social media sites, which currently serve more than 18,000 followers.

Congratulations to these young men and women who have worked hard to be standouts on the court! The athletes also prioritize their studies and set aside time to volunteer in their communities. This huge honor is reserved for a select few each year; therefore this is the first time we have published an exclusive 501 LIFE Basketball Team magazine dedicated solely to those who earned the elite title.

501 LIFE Magazine would like to thank our 501 Basketball and 501 Football Team sponsors - Arkansas PBS, Conway Regional Health System, First Security Bank, Moix RVToad Suck Station and Velda Lueders of Coldwell Banker RPM Group - as well as our advertisers and player supporters who help make this edition possible. We also extend sincere thanks to Conway Christian High School and Athletic Director Justin Kramer for providing the location for this year’s team photo shoot.

Now, we proudly introduce the 501 Basketball Team!

PUBLISHER/ ART DIRECTOR

Jeremy L. Higginbotham EDITOR

Stefanie W. Brazile FOUNDERS

Donna Spears and Sonja Keith

BRAND AMBASSADOR

Donald Brazile

ADVERTISING DIRECTOR

Paulette Higginbotham

ADVERTISING SALES

Donna Spears

DIGITAL DIRECTOR

Levi Gilbert

PHOTO DIRECTOR Mike Kemp

COPY EDITOR

Andrea Lively

FINANCE DIRECTOR

Debbie Flowers

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501 LIFE is published monthly by Make the Jump Media, LLC
Locust Ave., Suite 104, Conway, AR 72034, 501.327.1501)
Stefanie W. Brazile. The contents of 501 LIFE are copyrighted and materials presented may not be copied or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the publishers. Articles should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Products and services advertised are not necessarily endorsed by 501 LIFE.
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owned by Jeremy Higginbotham and
CONTRIBUTOR Levi Gilbert PHOTOGRAPHER Mike Kemp CONTRIBUTOR Mark Oliver
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ABBIGAIL BAKER - WONDERVIEW

Abbigail Baker respects the importance of giving back and investing in the next generation of Wonderview Lady Daredevils.

“Abbi coaches a Pee Wee basketball team,” said Wonderview Head Coach Mark Simmons. “She is active in her church and participates in helping in elementary classes one-on-one with students.”

Baker, a senior guard, works to be known as a leader and encourager for Wonderview. During her time as a Lady Daredevil, she has earned all-conference, all-region and all-state tournament team honors.

“Abbi is hard working, and she has a great basketball IQ and strong will to succeed,” Simmons said. “She is a great leader who leads by example, is extremely unselfish and will take on any role the team needs. As a teammate, she is always willing to help others, friendly and caring towards her peers.

ADDY PEEBLES - NEMO VISTA

Last season as a junior, guard Addy Peebles helped lead the Nemo Vista Lady RedHawks to their first state tournament since 2017. Now, as a senior, Peebles is working to get them back for the second straight year.

“Addy is a dual threat offensively,” said Nemo Vista Head Coach Kyle Payne. “She is a good outside shooter who keeps the defense honest, but really excels when she is attacking the basket. She is our best finisher inside, and her presence helps create the space our other guards need in order to get their shots off.

“Off the court, Addy is a great student and role model for the younger kids in school,” Payne said. “She is active at Pleasant Springs Baptist Church and participates in delivering fruit baskets to the shut-ins and elders in the community during the Christmas season. Addy recently helped with an outreach program for children, too. She is a player that others have looked up to since she was in

“The expectation is for her to be a leader on and off the court,” Simmons said. “And to be the person that others look to for mental toughness and intensity.”

Baker also plays softball for Wonderview. Beyond athletics, she is active in Beta Club; Fellowship of Christian Athletes; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America; Little Wonders; and Youth Leadership Initiative. She has an offer to play basketball at the University of the Ozarks and plans to pursue a career in nursing.

seventh grade, when I first began coaching her. She is not the most vocal player on the floor, but lets her execution do the talking,” Payne said. Peebles’ basketball role model is her grandmother.

“She played basketball all her life and inspires me to be the best athlete and person I can be every day,” Peebles said. “The goal is to play in a way where you can look back in 10 years and have no regrets.”

CONGRATS FROM

A.J. PERSON - MOUNT VERNON-ENOLA

“My most important personal goal I’ve had for the past two seasons is being the best teammate I can be under any circumstances,” Person said. “Last year, I got the most valuable player on my team, not because I scored the most points or had the most steals, but because I was the best teammate I could be, and I accomplished my goal. I want to be remembered as the most sportsmanlike player. I try to make my mark with the other teams by being nice and not engaging in trash talk that happens on the court.”

Person, a junior guard for Mount Vernon-Enola, earned all-district honors a year ago.

“A.J. is a hard worker with great court vision and has an ability to shoot the ball well,” said Lady Warhawks Head Coach Adam Carlton. “She is a dependable, hardworking kid who is always willing to help out others. She is an encourager of others. She has

helped with our sophomores, getting them up to speed with what we do, and is always willing to sit down with them and go over things or just give helpful advice. She is one of our best shooters on our team and has continued that this year.”

Person participates in softball, golf, track and Beta Club. She volunteers by coaching the local fifth-grade boys basketball team.

CONGRATS FROM

ASHLYNN NEWTON - GREENBRIER

Ashlynn Newton was drawn to basketball at a young age and has gleaned valuable wisdom from the sport along the way. “I have really learned that hard work in and out of practice truly pays off,” Newton said. “I also have learned a lot about teamwork and leadership. I really try to enjoy it all in the moment and make as many memories as possible because it ends sooner than you think, but the memories last forever.”

Newton, a senior guard, brings leadership in her role to the Greenbrier Lady Panthers.

“Ashlynn is a really athletic player who can finish well around the rim, and her shot is getting better every day,” said Greenbrier Head Coach Payton Edmondson. “Last year, she provided valuable minutes off the bench and was a very good defender and rebounder. This year, we have expected her to provide leadership to a young team and take on major roles both offen-sively and defensively.

“She is very involved in student activities at school. She’s a high-achieving student with a 4.0 GPA. She’s a good player and an even better person — a great leader for our team.”

As Newton completes her senior season, she leaves with precious memories with her Lady Panther teammates.

“The camps our team goes to in the summer always end up being so much fun for everyone,” Newton said. “Being able to spend a couple of days with my teammates really creates such good bonds and friendships that can’t really be made any other way.”

CONGRATS FROM

AUBREY EVANS - BIGELOW

From Player of the Week to All-State honors, this two-time 501 Basketball Team honoree is Bigelow senior forward Aubrey Evans. One honor still eludes her, however, and the Lady Panthers are committed to bringing it home this season: a state championship ring.

“Basketball has taught me discipline and perseverance and has shown me how to push myself in life,” Evans said. “My personal goals this season are focusing on my free throw and on shot percentages. As a team, we want to develop and improve each game. We will achieve this by communicating and having high energy at all times, no matter the score.”

Under new head coach Peter Ryan, the Lady Panthers haven’t lost their stride.

“Aubrey has the ability to impact the game in so many ways,” Ryan said. “From her ability to defend any position to getting a defensive

rebound and weaving through traffic to taking it coastto-coast, she is a true team player.”

Inspired by the loss of her biggest role model, Evans dedicates each moment of her career to the one who taught her to love the game.

“My mom was my Pee Wee basketball coach from third to fourth grade until she passed away from her hardfought battle with breast cancer,” Evans said. “This year, I customized my shoes to be pink in dedication to her. She showed me how brave a fighter she was while battling cancer, and so I practice, work and play hard for her.”

CONGRATS FROM

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BAILEY SIMS - VILONIA

Faced with the challenge of replacing half of its shooters from last year’s Class 5A state tournament team, Vilonia has found a gem this season in senior post player Bailey Sims. From creating offense through defense down low to punishing defenders beyond the arc, there isn’t much that No. 33 can’t do.

“Bailey may not be the biggest or tallest post player around, but she does have the ability to do things that most players cannot do,” Vilonia head coach Jeremy Simon said. “She is very crafty around the rim, and if we can get her the ball on the block she can usually get us a basket. What separates her from most post players is her play on the perimeter. She has good court vision, so when she sees the double teams coming she will find her open teammates. If you do not guard her, she has the ability to knock down threes.”

CALLE CITTY - HARDING ACADEMY

Calle Citty has been reliable for Harding Academy since she stepped on the court four years ago.

The senior averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last year, earning all-state honors. After an early playoff exit a year ago, Citty is looking to make a deep run with the Lady Wildcats to close out her career.

“Calle is a 6-foot guard/forward who presents matchup problems,” said Harding Academy Head Coach Rusty Garner. “She can score around the rim or from the outside. She’s a terrific rebounder and defender. She is also a fouryear starter with as much experience as possible. Calle is a great on-floor communicator and is constantly helping teammates recognize situations and get to the right places.”

Citty is a two-time 501 Basketball Team honoree. She was named the state tournament Most Valuable Player in soccer last season, helping lead the Lady Wildcats to a state championship.

A source of positive energy for the Lady Eagles, Sims’ accountability is unrivaled.“Basketball has taught me patience and the value of teamwork,” Sims said. “This season, my goal is to play with more confidence so we can have a successful conference season and go to state.”

“I believe that Bailey is one of the most underrated post players in the state,” Simon said. “After losing 50 percent of our scoring to graduation, we are going to rely on Bailey to step up her game, and I believe she is going to have a breakout senior year.”

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But it’s not just the on-the-court or on-the-pitch successes that have been the biggest contributions from Citty.

“Calle is a great student and friend,” Garner said. “She is a high-character young lady and will be successful whatever she decides to do. Calle volunteers yearly to work the Micah Rine Wildcat Legacy 5K race and works as a mentor to younger students in the school’s ‘Big Sister’ program. Calle is loyal, intelligent, thoughtful and caring.

“We expect Calle to be a team leader, not only with her statistics but also with her voice and experience.”

CONGRATS FROM

CAMERON CHRISTIE - PERRYVILLE

Cameron Christie will never forget drenching her coach with water after Perryville earned a berth to the regional tournament last season.

As last year’s leading scorer for the Lady Mustangs, it’s one of many memories the All-Conference guard has made on the court over her 11-year career. This season, the junior has one goal in mind: taking her team to the top.

“My personal goals for this season are to improve my game and contribute to my team as best as possible,” Christie said. “Our team goal is to make it to State by working as a team and trusting each other every play.”

For Christie, hard work pays off. With two official NCAA Division III offers already in tow and more likely on the way, the sky’s the limit for the junior star.

“Cammi is a great shooter who can

score from anywhere,” Perryville head coach Troy Denn said. “She’s also a gym rat. She knows what 1,000 shots feels like. With countless hours and shots in the gym, she is the hardest-working person I’ve been around.”

Christie spends her free time training and mentoring the next generation of Lady Mustangs and hopes to be remembered for her work ethic and leadership.

“A life lesson I have learned from playing basketball is to have patience,” Christie said. “You have to wait and work for the outcome. Success doesn’t just come overnight. Always be kind to your teammates and always put God first.”

CONGRATS FROM

CARLY MADAR - CABOT

After a torn ACL took her away from the game she loved during last year’s Class 6A state tournament, Cabot High School senior guard Carly Madar found a new way to lead her team to victory.

“My injury has taught me patience and how to lead from the sidelines,” Madar said. “I have also learned how to encourage others, even when I’m not feeling my best.”

As the wins roll in for Cabot this season Madar continues to focus on her recovery, with hopes of returning when her team needs her the most.

“My personal goal is to get back on the floor and push myself to play like I did before my injury,” Madar said. “I have spent the last nine months working as hard as I can in physical therapy so I can come back for conference games.”

“Carly’s integrity is what sets her apart from most her age,” Cabot head coach Jay Cook said.

“She is never concerned about who receives the credit. She just wants her team to be successful and will do whatever it takes to ensure that happens.”

With the postseason on the horizon, Madar is confident that the Lady Panthers have what it takes to make history.

“I want us to make it further than we did last year,” Madar said. “Obviously, a championship would be amazing, especially in the competitive Class 6A Central conference. As long as we play with and for each other, our season will be a success.”

CONGRATS FROM

EMMA DOLD - SACRED HEART

After making it to the 1A quarterfinals both of the last two seasons, Emma Dold has set high goals for her senior year at Sacred Heart.

“Some personal goals I have this season are to score 400 points or more, to average a double-double, to be a good leader and role model for my team and to contribute to my team making it further than the elite eight of state,” Dold said.

Dold, a 5-foot-10 center, gives Sacred Heart a threat on both ends of the court.

“She is physical inside,” said Sacred Heart Head Coach Kyle Duvall. “She is a tough player who can play with her back to the basket. She is a really good rebounder and post defender.”

Duvall also highlighted Dold’s leadership skills. “As team captain, Emma has high goals and expectations for herself and our team. She strives for greatness in the

JAYLEA HOOTEN - HEBER SPRINGS

Winless in Class 4-4A conference play last season, Heber Springs has impressed as one of the hottest teams in the 501 this season. Leading the Lady Panthers’ turnaround is senior guard/forward Jaylea Hooten.

“This season, our team has set simple but effective goals for ourselves, which has driven us to become better players and has allowed us to take on the game from a winner’s perspective,” Hooten said. “During the offseason, we spent almost every weekend playing in tournaments or attending camps. We’ve done everything we can to improve. All we’re doing now is continuing the process.”

New to the Class 5-4A conference, Lady Panthers have “bought in” to changing Heber Springs’ basketball culture, with hopes of taking the program further than ever.

“Jaylea desperately wants to change the reputation of Heber Springs Lady Panther basketball,” Heber Springs head coach Spencer Gay said. “She has a tremendous

classroom and on the court. She gives all-out effort every day in practice and games and encourages her teammates to be the best they can be.”

Dold is active in Key and Beta Club, Student Council and Catholic Youth Ministry and volunteers in the community through trash pickup days, fishing derbies and setting up and taking down flags for veterans. She also volunteers at Kids First.

“I expect Emma to have a great senior year,” Duvall said. “If we need a big basket or stop, we are going to count on Emma. I am so proud of her.”

CONGRATS FROM

motor and work ethic that is rarely seen among athletes of this generation and is one of the hardest-working players I’ve ever had.”

With goals of scoring 1,000 career points and earning All-State honors this season, Hooten hopes to leave an impact on her school for years to come.

“I want to be remembered as a good, hard-working player,” Hooten said. “Two lessons that really stick with me are learning to be a team player and loving your teammates. They’re like a philosophy to me. I use these in almost every situation I come across.”

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FULL-COURT PRESS COVERAGE

State finals to air statewide exclusively on Arkansas PBS

Arkansas PBS will broadcast the 2023 1A-6A Centennial Bank High School Basketball State Finals live from the Hot Springs Convention Center Bank OZK Arena beginning Thursday, March 9, in partnership with the Arkansas Activities Association.

Games will be available to watch online after the broadcast at youtube.com/arkansaspbs.

AR PBS Sports will be broadcast statewide over the air, on cable and on satellite on Arkansas PBS’s primary channel. All the ways to watch Arkansas PBS can be found at myarpbs.org/waystowatch. Correct channel information is available in local TV listings.

Throughout the state finals, AR PBS Sports will present profiles of outstanding student athletes from each division and special segments highlighting unique Arkansas sports stories. Past coverage has included “Hazel Walker’s Arkansas Travelers,” “A Final Run: The Carver Cobras” and “Pippen’s Court,” all of which earned Mid-America Emmy Awards; “Speaking Volumes,” winner of a Public Media Award; “The Nicholas Watson Story: Excelling Through

Challenges” and many others.

In the week following the finals, games will be available to watch at youtube.com/arkansaspbs, allowing coaches, players, families, college recruiters and others to watch at their convenience. Games will also be available through the PBS Video app on mobile or streaming devices.

Anyone attending the games in person should visit the Arkansas PBS Engage booth for the opportunity to meet Clifford the Big Red Dog, see sneak peeks of upcoming programs, and participate in special giveaways. Additionally, professional photos from the games will be available at myarpbs.org/photos.

Fans who would like to help support Arkansas PBS’s coverage of high school sports championships and all other local programming can text SPORTS to 501.491.0444 to make a $10 donation to Arkansas PBS.

The most up-to-date programming schedule with options for email reminders and calendar syncing is available at myarpbs.org/schedule.

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Bobby Swafford (from left), Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) assistant executive director, and Wess Moore, also with AAA, interview a North Little Rock player after the 2022 state high school basketball finals on AR PBS Sports.

THE ARKANSAS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL STATE FINALS WILL AIR LIVE MARCH 9-11

4A GIRLS .......... Thursday, March 9, at noon.

4A BOYS .... Thursday, March 9, at 1:45 p.m.

5A GIRLS ......... Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m.

5A BOYS ....Thursday, March 9, at 7:45 p.m.

6A GIRLS .............. Friday, March 10, at noon.

6A BOYS Friday, March 10, at 1:45 p.m.

1A GIRLS Friday, March 10, at 6 p.m.

1A BOYS Friday, March 10, at 7:45 p.m.

2A GIRLS Saturday, March 11, at 11:30 a.m.

2A BOYS Saturday, March 11, 1:15 p.m.

3A GIRLS Saturday, March 11, at 6 p.m.

3A BOYS Saturday, March 11, at 7:45 p.m.

AR PBS Sports, the home for high school state championships in Arkansas, recognizes the vital role high school activities play in the education and development of young adults, while connecting families statewide by featuring hometown athletes competing in the biggest games of the season. In partnership with the Arkansas Activities Association, Arkansas PBS will broadcast high school championship activities for football, basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball for classifications 1A-7A. In addition to creating viewing opportunities for those who may not be able to attend the games, AR PBS Sports enables talented young athletes to connect with college recruiters and potential scholarships.

The Arkansas Activities Association is the statewide governing body for athletics and activities in Arkansas. The AAA's mission is to promote the value of participation in interscholastic activities in the AAA member schools and to provide services to the schools in a fair and impartial manner while assisting and supporting their efforts to develop thinking, productive and prepared individuals as they become positive, contributing citizens modeling the democratic principles of our state and nation.

Arkansas PBS, Arkansas’s only statewide public media network, empowers learners of all ages by educating, informing, entertaining and inspiring communities. Arkansas PBS serves as a daily and essential resource for Arkansans by creating, sharing, celebrating and driving conversation around Arkansas stories and classic, trusted PBS programs through multiple digital platforms, including livestreaming at myarpbs.org/watch, on-demand services and YouTube TV, and the distinct channels Arkansas PBS, Arkansas PBS Create, Arkansas PBS KIDS, Arkansas PBS WORLD and Arkansas PBS AIRS on SAP.

BASKETBALL TEAM 501lifemag.com I 13 2 23
Top: Arkansas PBS Sports Crew shoots the state finals. Center: Arkansas PBS producer Tanisha Joe Conway monitors the live broadcast of the state high school basketball finals. Bottom: An Arkansas PBS Sports crew member produces game footage.

KAIDYN BECKWITH - CONWAY

Kaidyn Beckwith is on a mission as she closes out her senior season with the nationally ranked Conway Lady Wampus Cats.

“The ultimate goal is to always win a state championship ring, but outside of that, as a team we want to get better after every practice and every game,” Beckwith said. “Our motto is, ‘One step forward, no steps back.’ So, we achieve our goal just like that — day by day, never looking too far ahead, but also not looking back.”

Beckwith is one of four senior starters for the Lady Cats, each of whom has a unique role to fill.

“Kaidyn is a true point guard,” said Conway head coach Ashley Hutchcraft. “She is great at seeing the floor and getting the ball inside. Defensively, she can lock down her opponent. She is physical and plays with a lot of grit. Last season, Kaidyn brought us energy every game and was a

KARA KEATHLEY - CONWAY CHRISTIAN

Kara Keathley almost lost her senior season at Conway Christian due to a knee tendon injury, and now she’s not taking any moments on the court for granted.

“All of my time playing sports, I have been known as the one to bounce right back up,” Keathley said. “However, a few games into this year, I partially tore my PCL. I’m not one to just sit and watch. I always like to be doing something, so getting told I was going to be out six to 10 weeks was not something I wanted to hear.

“I might have still been in pain, but I was set that it was going to be three weeks and that’s it. By the three-week marker, I was back on the court, willing to take the risk, because I was not going to lose my last year.”

In the second half of the season last year, Keathley averaged eight points per game while shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line.

spark off the bench, especially with her defense.

“I expect Kaidyn to be more of a vocal leader than she has been. She genuinely cares about her teammates. She is now a senior with two years of varsity experience, and she knows what it takes to be successful. I expect her experience to help us win big games.”

Beckwith is engaged in Caring Cats, Student Council, Key Club, Beta Club, National Honors Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Conway High. She has earned a 4.0 GPA and will graduate with honors.

CONGRATS FROM

“Kara is the ultimate teammate, willing to take on any role to help her team win,” said Head Coach Trey Lynch.

“Specifically, she is a great shooter and active defender whose adaptability allows her to play multiple positions.

Kara takes pride in all that she does. She epitomizes what it means to be a well-rounded student-athlete.”

Keathley also plays golf, softball and volleyball and cheers. In addition, she is in Drama Club, Future Business Leaders of America and Beta Club. CONGRATS FROM

KATLIN BOWDEN-HUBER - MORRILTON

Katlin Bowden-Huber and the Morrilton Lady Devil Dogs are in the midst of a successful run. It’s been four straight years of reaching the 20-win mark, and Bowden-Huber and her teammates are primed to take another run at post-season success.

“On the court, Katlin is hard working,” said Morrilton head coach Carin McNabb. “She is athletic and a perfectionist. What makes her a good teammate is that she tries to help others and always do her best.”

In Bowden-Huber’s junior season, the Lady Devil Dogs made it to the 4A north regional tournament, where Morrilton’s season ended in the first round.

“Katlin contributed by being a great teammate,” McNabb said. “She pushed our post players daily and made us better in practice.”

In her senior season, she has put in the effort to improve her game

for her final days in a Morrilton uniform.

“This year, my expectations for Katlin are to guard the rim with her length and athleticism,” McNabb said.

Off the court, her contributions are just as important to Morrilton. Her personality and kindness shine through. “She’s a smart, funny and a sweet person,” McNabb said. “She works a job after school and is friendly to all the customers. At school, she is a member of several clubs. In the classroom, she works hard to make good grades and is willing to help others.”

CONGRATS FROM

OLIVIA WILLIAMS - ST. JOSEPH

For Olivia Williams, just getting on the court for the St. Joseph Lady Bulldogs every night is the first win.

“I have been dealing with rheumatoid arthritis since I was 10 years old,” Williams said. “It can be a daily and nightly struggle, with a regimen of doctor’s visits, medications, x-rays, blood-work, injections, ointments and soaking. My doctors want me to reduce any impact on my joints such as jumping rope and lifting weights. I love sports, so this is a struggle. We may not always win, but I feel like it’s a win just to be able to get out there and play for my school.”

Williams grew up watching her three older siblings play basketball, and she heard the story of her parents’ playing days in college (father at Crowley Ridge and mother at the University of Central Arkansas).

“I started playing at the Boys and Girls Club in third grade as well as doing the Little Dribblers pro -

gram since kindergarten at St. Joseph that we helped my mom start, and I still help with it,” Williams said.

Austin Neumeier, is in his first year coaching with St. Joseph, confirms that Williams has been a big help.

“When I got here, I was told she would be a big help to me as a player and almost like an assistant coach out there on the court,” Neumeier said. “She is very versatile. She can score inside and out. She battles through plenty and is just a tough player.”

CONGRATS FROM

RAELEN RANDLE - MAUMELLE

In her final season with Maumelle, senior forward Raelen Randle seeks to add additional honors to an already-impressive resume.

With two state tournament appearances and an All-State tournament team honor on her plate, the senior team captain plans to give it her all in hopes of earning a chance to play at the next level.

“This season, my personal goal is to make AllState,” Randle said. “As a team, we would like to finish in the top four in our conference and win state.”

Led by Randle, team chemistry has been the catalyst for Maumelle’s turnaround this season.

“Rae is the ultimate teammate,” Maumelle head coach Grover Garrison said. “She wants what’s best for everyone and will sacrifice herself to help get it done.”

REESE MCDONALD - CLINTON

After reaching the Class 3A state semifinals a year ago, Clinton understands what it takes to reach the pinnacle of high school basketball. Fueled by senior guard Reese McDonald, the Lady Yellowjackets return healthy and hungry for a chance to make school history.

“I want everything and more for this team,” McDonald said. “Overall, growth is what is most important. Seeing the improvement of the sophomores and juniors has always been so cool to watch.”

“Reese is a vocal leader who leads by how hard she plays every single day,” Clinton head coach Matthew Post said. “She is a high-level competitor and has a motor that never stops. She is one of the best on-ball defenders we have and can score at all three levels on the court.”

As the team embarks on its title run, McDonald hasn’t forgotten to enjoy the journey along the way, too.

“I want to be remembered as the teammate who always pushed everyone to their full potential and had a positive attitude,” Randle said. “Some of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned from playing basketball are discipline, determination and to never, ever quit!”

As her high school career draws to a close, Randle will never forget those who helped her fall in love with the game.

“My mom is my basketball hero,” Randle said. “As a Division I player for Arkansas State University, I wanted to be just like her. She introduced me to the sport and has supported me since.” CONGRATS FROM

“I have been wanting to just live in the moment a little bit more,” McDonald said. “Being my senior year, I have been doing everything I can to soak up every last second I have with the amazing team I have been blessed with.”

The future is bright for McDonald, who is already receiving offers to play at the next level. “I want to be remembered as someone did everything she could for her team, even when things got hard, “McDonald said.

“Someone who played for the Lord and let His glory shine in every way she could.”

CONGRATS FROM

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RILEY WHITTINGTON - MAYFLOWER

Mayflower junior guard Riley Whittington will never forget the moment her basketball career began.

“My interest in basketball really came out of nowhere,” Whittington said. “I was a second-grade girl who had always been put in dance and gymnastics, so when I asked for a basketball goal for my birthday, my parents were in shock.”

Whittington has shone on the court ever since, growing into a leader by example for the Lady Eagles.

“Riley has the potential to be one of the best players in the conference,” Mayflower head coach Coty Storms said. “Everyone respects her. She encourages others and does what she can to make everybody around her better. I am looking forward to watching her grow as a player and a person.”

SARA MCCAIN - SEARCY

Things are looking up for Searcy this season. Far removed from last year’s two-win campaign, the Lady Lions are turning their basketball program around one win at a time.

“Last year, losing was our norm,” junior forward Sara McCain said. “It’s so hard to come back from a season like that, mentally, but we never gave up. We stuck together and trusted the process. This year, we have a hunger to win and we’ve worked so hard to change our program.”

Behind a talented junior class, the Lady Lions have found success through unselfish play.

“Sara is a natural-born leader,” Searcy head coach Kim Sitzmann said. “She is one of the hardest workers and extremely competitive. She pushes her teammates to be better and brings the competition to the next level.”

Aiming to reach the state tournament this season, McCain and the Lady Lions are focused on fundamentals.

After falling in the Class 3A state quarterfinals last season, Whittington and the Lady Eagles have goals to make another deep postseason run.

“When the season began, I set three goals: to work on my shooting, to be more vocal and to work on my fear of failure,” Whittington said. “As a team, our goal is to go out every game with a good attitude and 110-percent effort. If we can do both of those things, then I can see us going very far in the postseason.”

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“By reducing turnovers, holding our opponents to less than 40 points per game and increasing our shooting percentage, we will achieve our goals with maximum effort,” McCain said.

McCain hopes to inspire readers to never give up when the going gets tough.

“I’ve learned a ton of lessons from basketball,” McCain said. “Most importantly, I learned loyalty to my team, how to overcome adversity and that hard work really does pay off. It’s a gift from God to be able to play a sport, and I see it as a huge mission field to reach other student athletes.”

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SARAH HARTLE - ROSE BUD

Basketball is known for teaching life lessons. For Rose Bud senior guard Sarah Hartlse, the game has taught her to cherish the journey and value the sacrifice.

“After COVID-19, a lot of our players didn’t come back to play,” Hartle said. “This year, when only five girls signed up for the team, our coach moved our ninth graders up. They sacrificed their final season of junior high to give us a chance to have a team, and that has inspired me to become a better leader on and off the court.”

On a quest to rebuild the program and return its competitiveness, Hartle understands that the greatest leaders grow not only themselves, but also those around them.

“Sarah is always looking for ways to help the team,” Rose Bud head coach Mary Emily Nash said.

“She helps plan team outings, stays after practice to rebound for teammates and holds others accountable. She works hard in the classroom and is always willing to help someone or ask questions when needed.”

In her final season with Rose Bud, Hartle has fully embraced the bigger picture and is dedicated to helping grow the community she calls home for years to come.

“As generous as Sarah is on the court, she is equally as selfless off the court,” Nash said. “She uses her free time to coach a Pee Wee basketball team, is an active member of her church and has volunteered many service hours in our community.”

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SILVER MULLINIKS - QUITMAN

Silver Mulliniks has helped continue building Quitman’s legacy of success in girls basketball. The past two seasons, Quitman has finished in the elite eight and final four, respectively, in the 2A state tournament. Mulliniks was Quitman’s leading scorer both seasons.

“This season, I would expect her to be a scorer comparable to her past two seasons,” said Quitman head coach Timothy Hooten. “She is also a co-captain, which comes with additional responsibilities. She is a good 3-point shooter and also balances that with the ability to drive the lane. She leads by example, is never late and doesn’t ask her teammates to do what she won’t.”

Mulliniks moved to Quitman heading into the eighth grade and expresses gratitude for the time she has had with the program. “Adjusting to Coach Hooten and his program was challenging,” Mulliniks said. “However, I am thankful for the wide

array of opportunities that I have been given at Quitman. Coach Hooten is a master at teaching fundamentals and continues to perfect his program.

“There are many lessons I have learned through basketball. I learned how to be a good teammate. Every player is different and may need something different. Some players need extra encouragement, while others need an extra push. The most valuable lesson is perseverance. There were so many times where it would’ve been easy to quit when things got hard, but I wouldn’t let myself quit.”

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TAYLOR THOMPSON - BEEBE

Hard work pays off. For Beebe’s Taylor Thompson, that means never giving up on her goals in order to earn more playing time for the Lady Badgers this season.

“Taylor did not see a lot of varsity time last year, but was one of my best practice players and helped last year’s starters become better players by competing hard against them,” Beebe head coach Greg Richey said. “That has prepared her for this season. This year, my expectations for Taylor are to be a vocal leader and to be one of our best defenders and rebounders.”

It hasn’t been the easiest season for Thompson and the Lady Badgers. In the face of adversity, however, the team hasn’t stopped believing in their capabilities on the court.

“Being able to adjust to difficulties on the court and rise above them not only makes me better, but my teammates as well,” Thompson said. “This season, our goal is to learn to work better together and create bonds

on the court to make things happen.”

Thompson hopes to be remembered on the court for her leadership, endurance and encouragement for her teammates and hasn’t forgotten those who helped mold her into the leader she is today.

“I want to thank everyone who has been there for me in my high school basketball career,” Thompson said. “I want to thank my parents for being my biggest supporters, and my very-patient mom for not letting me quit and always being right behind me with every step.”

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THE LADY CATS GO TO WASHINGTON

ESPN invites team to play before national audience.

After being nationally ranked in many polls for two seasons and traveling to play and hosting other nationally ranked teams over several years, the Conway Lady Cats reached a new level of national recognition in January.

Conway was one of four teams invited to the second annual GEICO Girls Basketball Invitational, which is part of the ESPN GEICO Girls High School Series. The games were broadcast across ESPNU and ESPN+ and were hosted at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

“The opportunity to take our girls on a flight to our nation’s capital to play at a very elite level says a lot about the players that have come before this team that have set us up for this, and it says a lot about the players that are on our team right now,” Lady Cat head coach Ashley Hutchcraft said. “We wouldn't be here without the Jordan Danberry, the Alexis Tolefree, the Hailey Estes, the Jaiden Thomas. I mean there’s so many that have gotten us to this point that we can’t forget, and I want them to know I haven't forgotten them. They have given Chloe [Clardy] and Savannah [Scott] and all these girls this opportunity.”

The two-day tournament featured four of the best girls’ basketball programs in the nation, including three who were in the SportsCenter NEXT Top 25 poll at the time of the event: No. 3 Sidwell Friends School, No. 4 La Jolla Country Day School (California) and No. 14 Conway.

“The level of competition was the peak of high school girls’ basketball,” Hutchcraft said. “Of course, you have the home team Sidwell, who has been the No. 1 team in the nation most of the year. The Webb School from Tennessee has seven players that have signed Division I scholarships. La Jolla has two McDonald’s All-Americans. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Conway also features two Division I commitments in seniors Chloe Clardy (Stanford) and Savannah Scott (Auburn). Clardy is the reigning Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year.

The Lady Cats opened the tournament against host Sidwell Friends in a 66-56 loss. Conway closed out the weekend in a close loss to La Jolla, 73-67.

“I am very proud of how we played,” Hutchcraft said. “We were a little upset in how the last game turned out. We should have won that game. We missed too many free

throws and got into foul trouble that affected our play, but overall, I was very proud of how competitive we were. We have to keep in mind the teams we played are private schools. Their rosters consist of players from all over. For example, La Jolla Country Day’s best guard, Jada Williams, is originally from Oklahoma. Our team consists of Conway kids. Our school is free, and we make the hand we are dealt each year work for us.”

Although the Lady Cats didn’t get the ultimate results they wanted on the court, they walked away from the event feeling honored and impressed.

“We were taken care of like a college team,” Hutchcraft said. “We were provided everything we could possibly need and then some. We had a charter company that took us daily wherever we wanted to go. The first day we were in D.C., we had a banquet for the four participating teams. At the banquet, everyone received a Nike swag bag full of clothes. The kids really enjoyed that. After games, there was a recovery room where players could go and get [treated]. We had endless amounts of Gatorade, water and snacks. I could talk for days about how amazing the invitational was run.”

The Lady Cats also packed in as many experiences off the court as they could fit into the short trip.

“We were able to tour the White House, and we were able to go to the National Museum of African American History,” Hutchcraft said. “We really enjoyed the museum. It was beautiful, and the people who worked in the museum were so helpful. Our bus drivers also did a good job of pointing out landmarks as we drove around the city. We were able to see all of the embassies, the vice president’s house, the Obama house, where Hillary Clinton lives and the National Cathedral.

“We had lots of laughs and adventures together that made us more unified as a team. For me, it won’t be the games I will remember or a specific play, but I will remember watching them walk through the White House and see a painting of Michelle Obama and see their eyes light up or remember how special they felt the first night as we were all dressed up for a banquet. We had six players that had never flown in an airplane before, and I’ll remember watching them experience flying for the first time.”

BASKETBALL TEAM 501lifemag.com I 19 2 23
Continued on page 20
Photos courtesy of SportsCenter NEXT

In many ways, having this opportunity and national stage feels like a culmination, but for Hutchcraft and all the Lady Cats of past, present and future, this is a big step for the program’s ongoing path.

“We don’t want this to be the last time we play on a national stage,” Hutchcraft said. “We will continue to strive for opportunities like this for our program and be willing to put ourselves out there. Everyone wants to play at this level, but not everyone is willing to go and travel and put themselves out there. Thankfully, we have support from our administration that’s giving us the go ahead on all these things, and our community supports us financially. We want to travel to different states and

play top programs, and in order to do that, we have to be developing basketball players along the way.”

With the D.C. trip behind them, the Lady Cats now turn their attention back to finishing out 6A Central play with a sole focus on ascending to a state championship in March. In the Ashley Hutchcraft era, which began in 2010, the Lady Cats have reached the state semifinals seven times. They’ve also made it to the championship game four times in that same stretch, winning it all in 2014. The Conway girls’ program has won one other championship, which was under the leadership of Janet Taylor in 2008. The Lady Cats were upset in the quarterfinals last year.

Continued on page 22

20 I 501 LIFE BASKETBALL TEAM 2 23
Lady Cats enjoying some fun time with local Washington, D.C. students.

“I think for us, coming off of last year, losing that game kind of allowed us to take a deep breath and go, OK, here’s what we can get better at,” Hutchcraft said. “Our motto this year is, ‘One step forward, no steps back.’ We’re not worried about what happened last year. We’re one day at a time, one game at a time, and that's our focus.”

The Lady Cats were ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the 2021-22 season, and this season, they held the No. 1 spot until January. This year’s squad is led by four seniors.

“It feels like Chloe has been here forever,” Hutchcraft said. “She’s just a great person and great player. Savannah has flourished into a great player and is a great person as well. We have our other two seniors who are just as important. Kamille Brown is our defensive specialist, and then we have Kaidyn Beckwith, who is our true point guard. We love our four seniors. They are leaders on and off the floor, and we've been blessed to have them these last three or four years.”

Juniors Amyia Taylor and Jelani Davis provide depth off the bench, and sophomores Alexis Cox, Emerie Bohanon and Samyah Jordan all provide unique offensive contributions. Cox is Conway’s fifth starter, and Bohanon is the 3-point specialist and defensive spark off the bench.

“I think a lot of people think, ‘OK, well, they were good last year, so they’ll be good this year,’ but our team is different every year and you have a different look and different challenges,” Hutchcraft said. “Savannah has kind of changed the way we've played the game at Conway a little bit the last four years. If you've been around our program the last 10 years, we've always been kind of small, and we've had to play zone defense against teams that are much bigger than us. Our tempo was much different. With Savannah, we kind of changed our tempo to get her involved offensively, and I think she has learned every year — she's been growing up and she's maturing — but we're a lot quicker this year. We are kind of back to the pace that I really like. It has been surprising. I just didn't expect it. When you're out there with Emerie and Samaya and Kaidyn, they're fast, and it’s fun to watch.”

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ADDISON SHELTON - MAUMELLE

A first-round exit in last year’s Class 5A State Tournament has motivated Maumelle to achieve greater heights this season. Generating quite the buzz for the Hornets is senior newcomer Addison Shelton.

“Addison is a great example of a good student, good friend and a positive influence for his younger teammates to look up to,” Maumelle head coach Michael Shook said. “His best qualities on the court are his leadership, work ethic, communication, shooting and defense.”

As the Hornets’ floor general, Shelton’s combination of fearless leadership and unselfish play has helped keep Maumelle a household name in the ultra-competitive Class 5A Central conference.

“This season, I expect for Addison to be a leader for us, to be a key defender for us and to contribute on offense by scoring and creating for others,” Shook said. Shelton believes that becoming

a better leader can guide Maumelle to the title.

“My goal for this season is to be a vocal leader on and off the court,” Shelton said. “I want to be remembered as the guy who played on both sides of the ball and was never selfish with the ball.”

Shelton attributes his success to his biggest role model, his dad. “My basketball hero is my dad,” Shelton said. “Playing for him has definitely prepared me to compete at this level and has allowed our bond to be extremely tight.”

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ASHTON EALY - GUY-PERKINS

Ashton Ealy watched the Harlem Globetrotters in preschool and never looked back.

“I saw how they played and had fun playing the game, so that drew me to play the game,” Ealy said. For Ealy, a senior guard for Guy-Perkins, there’s one thing on the court that is quite like no other.

“Hitting the game winners,” Ealy said. “That one little moment of uncertainty and adrenaline as you watch the ball go in is like no other feeling on planet earth. Then, once it goes in, it’s the excitement and unbelief of what just happened.” Ealy was named the Sixth Man of the Year for the Thunderbirds the last two seasons.

“His quickness, shooting and athleticism are strengths on the court,” said GuyPerkins Head Coach Keane Guiden. “He brought energy, quickness and scoring as our sixth man last year. I expect him

BEAU HIGGINS - CONWAY CHRISTIAN

When Beau Higgins had his first opportunities to get on the court last season, the center saw his role grow quickly.

“Beau stepped into a big role last year with a lot of immediate pressure,” said Conway Christian Head Coach Zachary Fryxell. “Our other big man got injured and was put out for most of the rest of the regular season. Beau improved on his footwork, touch and defense over the month and a half he got to play and did a phenomenal job bringing much needed energy and enthusiasm.

“Beau has improved a lot in his time at Conway Christian,” Fryxell said. “He is a big, aggressive body on the court who always brings an energy that is contagious. He is a good defender in the paint and has a good understanding of spacing to create shots for guards when defenders help down on him.”

Higgins, a senior multi-sport athlete for the Eagles (he

to be among our leaders in scoring, assists, steals and rebounds this year.”

As Ealy closes out his high school basketball days, he’s thankful to his basketball and personal role model — his father.

“He has pushed me and my twin brother to our limits, and now it’s paying off on the court,” Ealy said. “He is still teaching us that life itself is just like basketball and makes sure we know that he is our biggest critic and biggest fan. From the time in the gym spent together, watching film together or watching college or NBA, he shows us ways we can make plays in games to help our team win.”

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also played football), plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas and pursue a degree in kinesiology. But he still has some work to finish on the court for the Eagles in the meantime.

“What I’ve learned is to not be so negative when you do something wrong and to use what you did wrong to help you become better,” Higgins said. “My personal goals for this season are to help my team in any way possible, and to also finish my senior year strong and play as long as we can as a team.”

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BRAI’LON DAVIS - MAYFLOWER

When his sophomore season was cut short with a knee injury, Mayflower senior guard Brai’lon Davis didn’t let adversity stop him from getting back to the game he loved.

Two years later, alongside his twin brother, Jailon, a fullstrength Davis is ready to give this season everything he has.

“Brai’lon is a great student leader in the classroom who sets a great example for the student body,” Mayflower head coach Brent Stallings said. “On the court, he is a sound player, both offensively and defensively. He plays with intensity, is unselfish and sets the example for his teammates.”

When he’s not leading the Eagles to victory on the court, Davis is focused on improving his abilities as a team leader.

“My team goals are to fix the things that need to be fixed by learning every day,” Davis said. “I watch basketball every chance I get. No matter if it’s high

BRANDON BENNETT - CABOT

When it comes to perimeter shooters in the 501, few are as talented beyond the arc as Cabot senior guard Brandon Bennett.

With his high basketball IQ and his ability to space the floor, Bennett has grown rather adept at punishing defenders with precision.

“Brandon is an excellent shooter and a reliable defender,” Cabot head coach Logan Bailey said. “He takes charges and rebounds and makes the game easier for his teammates. Last season, Brandon opened up driving lanes for his teammates with his shooting ability while also guarding one of the other teams’ best players. This season, we expect Brandon to continue spacing the floor with his perimeter shooting, to be more of a threat attacking the paint and to defend against many of the other teams’ best players.”

Among elite competition in the Class 6A Central conference, Bennett believes that strong defense and unselfish

play will pave the way to victory for the Panthers.

“Our goal this season is to finish as one of the top teams in the conference and make a run at state,” Bennett said. “We’ll accomplish this by playing great team defense and sharing the ball.”

school, college, NBA or overseas, each team I watch teaches me something different to help me with my game.” As the Eagles eye a return to the Class 3A State Tournament, Davis plans to use the lessons he’s learned to lead his team to new heights.

“A life lesson I’ve learned from playing basketball is that a setback can lead you to greater things,” Davis said. “I want to be remembered as an impactful player, a great teammate and as someone who never gave up. I’ve learned that doing my best every day can lead me to better things.”

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“Brandon is one of the most selfless players that I’ve had the honor of coaching,” Bailey said. “He puts his teammates’ needs above his own. He holds himself and those around him to a high standard. He’s reliable and enjoyable to work with. He is an outstanding student, a great friend to his peers and very involved in his community.”

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BRYCE THEOBALD - SEARCY

Missing last year’s Class 5A State Tournament by one game resonated with Searcy senior guard Bryce Theobald all offseason. With one last shot to make the big dance, Theobald and the Lions are all-in on achieving their goals this season.

“Basketball has definitely taught me how to work hard and never give up,” Theobald said. “It’s taught me how to just keep working and be patient, because eventually it’ll pay off if you keep doing the right thing.”

With its eyes on the prize, Searcy isn’t overlooking anyone on its schedule this season and is treating each game as a playoff game.

“Our main goal is to just make the state tournament,” Theobald said. “Last year, we were one game out of it, so that’s been our focus all year. We just all have to play as a team and lock up

whoever we play against. If we play how I know we’re capable of, then we will make the state tournament.”

“Bryce is always putting in extra time working on his game,” Searcy head coach Wayne Herren said. “This season, I expect him to be one of our key defensive players and someone we can turn to late in games to take care of the basketball and make free throws.”

As Searcy’s reigning Most Dedicated Player recipient, Theobald hopes to inspire future Lions through his play.

“When you watch me play, I want to be remembered for how hard I play and for always giving my all,”Theobald said.

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BURT GARRISON - MAUMELLE CHARTER

Senior forward Burt Garrison has learned many lessons throughout his 12-year basketball career. Most importantly, he’s learned that nothing beats hard work.

“I’ve learned that working hard only pays off if you’re patient,” Garrison said. “This game, and life, is all about who has been the most disciplined. I want to be remembered as the guy who was willing to do anything. I believe that giving maximum effort now will create no regrets for the future.”

Garrison’s basketball mindset has transformed him into a vital leader for the Falcons. “Burt pushes his teammates to be their best and praises them through good and bad,” Maumelle Charter head coach Josh Sensabaugh said. “His work ethic, leadership, shooting and rebounding are his best qualities on the court, and he’s willing to do his part in the classroom to help others grow and learn.”

In his final high school season, Garrison is focused on creating memories with his teammates and fighting to

the finish. “My personal goal this season is for everyone at all times to know how much the game means to me,” Garrison said. “Our team goal is to seed high in conference and take it all the way in district, leading to a big playoff run.”

Reflecting on his career, Garrison believes in a bright future for Maumelle Charter basketball.

“I would tell future student-athletes to love the game in the moment,” Garrison said. “Once it’s gone, you will want to remember the game as a good thing.”

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COLEN THOMPSON - CONWAY

Colen Thompson is the kind of player a coach can depend on to “put in the work” at any opportunity.

“The energy and intensity that he brings are some of his best qualities on the floor,” said Coach Marcus Adams, who is in his first year at Conway High School. “Colen brings a great attitude and is a great teammate. He is selfless and always has a positive attitude toward his teammates on how he lifts them up. He sets the tone with his intensity and passion and the effort he brings each and every day.”

For Thompson, working hard is just part of the process of getting where he wants to be as a Wampus Cat.

“You’ve got to work hard every day because there’s someone out there trying to get better than you right now,” Thompson said.

“I want to be one of the best shooters in Conway and in the state. Practice makes perfect, and you’ve

GREYSON EALY - QUITMAN

It would be easy to believe that basketball is in Greyson Ealy’s DNA.

“My dad played ball in college, and growing up I always tried to be exactly like him, so I’ve been playing almost all my life,” Ealy said. “Growing up our whole street would meet at somebody’s house, and we would just hoop. It’s probably one of my best memories because of how it made us so close. Ever since I was little, I always looked up to my older cousin Jahcoree and some of his teammates like Josh Ballard and Wyatt Spires. I always just thought it was so cool, the stuff they could do and the things they accomplished.”

An injury marred the end of Ealy’s sophomore season a year ago, but the future is bright for him and the Quitman Bulldogs.

“He is the most athletic player on our team, and oftentimes in the entire gym,” said Quitman Head Coach Bran-

got to have resiliency to get through adversity.”

Adams only gets one year with Thompson, but he has high praise for the senior.

“Colen is a great young man, and in my first year here at Conway I am really enjoying coaching and getting to know him,” Adams said. “He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever come across, on and off the court.”

Thompson plays the drums in the Conway High band. He’s also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and of Student Council.

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don Burgener. “He is explosive and always make a big play for us when we need it. He has grown and added muscle. His basketball IQ and skillset have both grown, and he has settled into more of a leadership role.

“Greyson will always admit his mistakes before they can be pointed out by our coaching staff. His accountability level is high. He’s not afraid to be a leader and do hard things like hold teammates accountable. His effort and intensity levels are always high, so he gets others to play hard and with emotion.”

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HAYES JOHNSON - GREENBRIER

Hayes Johnson started half of Greenbrier’s games last season, but this year, the senior serves as the starting center for the Panthers. Johnson takes the challenge head-on.

“I’ve learned that nothing comes easy,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without hard work. I want to push myself to become a better athlete and focus on getting stronger in my weaker areas. I plan on pushing myself and my teammates as far into the state playoffs as possible. I think this will be my best season so far, and with the help of my team, we can go pretty far this year.”

Johnson brings a positive attitude and magnetic personality to the Panthers. “Hayes plays hard,” said Greenbrier Head Coach Mike Simmons. “He’s unselfish, coachable, a good 3-point shooter and rebounder. He puts winning first and plays hard.

JAKE HILL - ST. JOSEPH

Jake Hill and the St. Joseph Bulldogs earned a berth to the 2A state tournament a year ago.

“I’ll never forget being a part of a really good basketball team,” Hill said. “It didn’t finish how we wanted it to, but we still had a great time and a great season. We were regular season conference champions and regional tournament champions.”

Hill, a senior shooting guard, is striving to create even greater memories for St. Joseph in his final season.

“I’ve learned that it takes hard work to achieve success and that things might not always go the way you want them to, but you just have to keep pushing and know that God will put you where you need to be,” Hill said. “As a player, I want to set a good example for younger kids and always work and play hard.”

Hill earned Co-MVP honors from his team as a junior, and he was also named all-conference.

He leads seniors in pep rallies and at football games as the Goon Squad Leader. Our teachers and administration all compliment what a good kid he is when I mention his name. His family is great and is very involved with school activities.”

Beyond the basketball court, Johnson participates in Future Business Leaders of America, Lifesavers Club, Goon Squad and Book Club. He plans to attend the University of Arkansas and pursue a degree in finance.

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“Jake is a competitor,” said Head Coach Chandler Stanek, who is in his first year in the role at St. Joseph. “He plays very hard and shoots the ball very well. He has worked on his body all off-season and has become a lot stronger because of it. He has a calm demeanor on the court.

“Off the court, he does life the right way. He is a great role model for his teammates and underclassmen around the school. He works hard in the classroom.”

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JAMES TYLER SPEARS - HEBER SPRINGS

New to the Class 5-4A conference this season, Heber Springs is driven to make a statement among tough competition. Led by senior guard James Tyler Spears, the Panthers thrive on a combination of speed and defense to achieve victory.

“My first goal is to establish Heber Springs’ place in our new conference,” Spears said. “I want to be competing for a playoff position at the end of the year. To achieve this, we are going to have to beat the teams we are expected to beat and also beat a few of the teams that people think we shouldn't.”

Though the Panthers are young this season, Spears’ basketball IQ has helped give the team an edge.

“JT makes good decisions and gives our team some much-needed length on the defensive end of the floor,” Heber Springs head coach Jordan Riley said. “He leads by example and has a positive impact on those he

comes into contact with, and his teachers and administrators always speak highly of his character and work ethic.”

Off the court, the multisport athlete has punched his ticket to the next level and hopes to leave a lasting impact on the Panthers’ program.

“After high school, I will be attending Harding University to play baseball,” Spears said. “Sometimes you have to wait your turn, so be patient and keep working hard. Hard work and being coachable are what will get you on the court or the field at game time.”

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If you would like to contribute to our work, please send donations to:

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501.679.4236 for more information.
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JAVON ORR - BIGELOW

Bigelow senior forward Javon Orr didn’t always want to play basketball. When he gave the game a chance, however, he learned that he’s capable of anything.

“Growing up in a house full of basketball players, I didn’t really want to play,” Orr said. “After my first game in seventh grade, the opposing coach came up to me and told me I had potential. I took that to heart and kept playing. Before I knew it, I had a growth spurt, hit 6’2”, and realized that basketball was the sport for me.”

A starter for the Panthers since his sophomore season, Orr has already racked up multiple MVPs and All-Conference honors, as well as an All-State honor.

“Javon is a hard worker on and off the court,” Bigelow head coach Craig Neumeier said. “He’s a good leader who is easy to be around. This season, we expect Javon to lead us in scoring and rebounding to get us back to the state tournament.”

JONES WHITE - VILONIA

A one-point loss in last year’s Class 5A state quarterfinals left a sour taste in Jones White’s mouth. Determined to rise higher, Vilonia’s senior guard hit the gym and hasn’t stopped working to put his team back in contention for its first boys’ basketball title in school history.

“Last season, I learned that you can’t take anything for granted,” White said. “You have to work hard every day to be good at something. The goal this season is to win a state title. That means spending extra time in the gym, watching film before every game and never taking any game for granted before we step on the court. Most importantly, we have to stick together as a team through the ups and downs.”

As Vilonia’s starting point guard, White has developed into one of the 501’s premier three-point shooters, earning him All-State and All-Conference honors.

“Jones’ work ethic is unbelievable on and off the court, and it has helped him become one of the best

In his final season, Orr has his sights set on the bigger picture.

“I want to be remembered as a guy who helped his team achieve its goals,” Orr said. “Some of my goals are to have better stats than last year and, ultimately, earn a basketball scholarship so I can pursue my dream of playing in college. I want to have a big name out there in the world. If you put in the hard work, you are guaranteed to get what you want out of it.”

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shooters in the state,” Vilonia head coach Troy Campbell said. “He handles the ball with great control. He is our leader on the court.”

This season, White leads by example. As a focal point of the Eagles’ offense and a great defender, opponents struggle to keep No. 3 at bay.

“Hard work pays off,” White said. “It teaches accountability and grows maturity. I want to be remembered as a basketball player who treated the game the right way and was a winner.”

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JOSEPH HUWE - FAULKNER COUNTY

“Joseph has a soft, quiet spirit, but is fierce on the court,” said Falcons head coach Brad Rusher. “He has mastered the skill of blocking out and getting boards. He is a hard worker and a team player. The team can rely on Joseph pulling down rebounds both offensively and defensively. He gives 100 percent every time he is on the court. He is also mastering the skill of putbacks.”

Huwe, a senior, has loved sports from an early age, but basketball and shooting sports are his passions.

“The first time that I traveled to participate in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship in Springfield, Mo. was a special memory,” Huwe said. “This is a time of lifelong friendship building along with a week of playing basketball. The event, attendance and participation are huge. With our Falcon families that do basketball, relationships are built for

a lifetime — not just with the players on the court. We lean on one another on and off the court. We are family.”

Huwe participates in shooting sports with the Bigelow High School team and achieved Eagle Rank within the Boys Scouts of America at the age of 14. He also enjoys playing guitar and working on his bowling game.

“I fight low self-esteem, off and on the court,” Huwe said. “I have a great support system in both places that gives me encouragement. Life is not about ‘me.’ It's a team.”

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KYLER CHAPMAN

- MOUNT VERNON-ENOLA

Kyler Chapman was inspired to play basketball by his uncle, and he’s never looked back.

“My uncle always wanted me to try out basketball when I was younger to see if I’d enjoy it,” Chapman said. “I’ve been playing for eight years. Growing up playing the game and hearing his stories, I always wanted to reach that point and go further. It gave me motivation and a reason to play.”

As Chapman is wrapping up his senior year, he fondly reflects on the past, especially his sophomore season.

“One of my favorite memories was winning regional tournament my sophomore year,” Chapman said. “We lost our best player early that year and had to overcome it and find a way to succeed. So winning regionals was a special moment.”

LEVI MERCER - HARDING ACADEMY

Levi Mercer hasn’t had a typical basketball journey.

“I used to play when I was little, but I thought it wasn’t for me,” Mercer said. “I took a break and decided to pick it back up in ninth grade after some pressure from friends. It’s been amazing to learn a new sport in depth that is more complex than I imagined when I joined.”

Mercer, a senior center for the Harding Academy Wildcats, has been on a crash course to learn basketball since his freshman year.

“Last year was his first year of meaningful basketball, and he got so much better from start to finish,” said Harding Academy head coach Trey Jameson. “I expect him to build off that. You could see his confidence had grown in the summer. He will have an outstanding year. I expect him to be a tough force in the paint. He is extremely strong and has great feet for a big man.”

For Mount Vernon-Enola head coach Drew Blocker, when Chapman graduates, the loss will be felt deeply for the Warhawks.

“Kyler has a great ability to shoot the three and get to the rim,” Blocker said. “He draws a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Kyler led our team in most of the major statistical categories last year. I expect him to have a great senior year. He makes those around him better. He can take pressure off of other players and allow them to succeed.”

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While Mercer hasn’t had all the years of experience playing basketball like many of his teammates or opponents, he closed the knowledge gap quickly with two things.

“I learned about patience and hard work,” Mercer said. “When I first started, I didn’t understand the sport or how I could play as good as the other guys. As the years went on, that changed, and I’ve found my spot by working hard during the season and spending time with the team.”

Mercer has committed to play football for Harding University.

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MARKEL SWINTON - MORRILTON

Basketball isn’t just a game for Morrilton senior guard Markel Swinton: it’s family.

“Growing up, I was always in the gym with my brothers, Marquis and Marcel,” Swinton said. “Some of my favorite memories are being coached by them. They’re my basketball heroes. They’ve always been there for me. They taught me to love the game.”

As a veteran on a younger team, Swinton understands the value of building relationships with teammates to inspire growth. “Success is not given to you. You have to work for it,” Swinton said.

“My goal is to be a better leader so I can make my team better. To win the state finals, we have to give 110 percent in practice every day.”

“Markel plays hard and has developed into the clear leader for our team,” Morrilton head coach Keith Zackery said. “His team-

mates listen to him because he brings it every day. Last year, he was one of our big-time defenders and did a great job distributing the ball to our primary scorers.”

Through volunteer work with RAAD (Rise Above Alcohol and Drugs), interacting with the elderly and assisting with Devil Pup basketball camps, Swinton loves giving back to the community he calls home.

“Markel is a very respectful young man,” Zackery said. “His parents have done an amazing job. I will miss his presence, and the stability he brings to me and to the program daily.”

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PATRICK PERRY - NEMO VISTA

Patrick Perry and the Nemo Vista Red Hawks made it to the 1A state tournament last season for the first time in five years.

“My goal this year is to lead my team back to another state tournament berth,” Perry said. “I want to help our juniors and sophomores not only grow into better players but also to lead and show them how to be a leader for when I’m gone. We want to come together as a family, building a bond that will last for life.”

Perry, a senior power forward/center, was Nemo Vista’s leading scorer and rebounder last season.

“Patrick is a versatile big man who can play any position needed,” said Nemo Vista head coach Aaron Thomas. “He is a willing passer with a great work ethic. Patrick has high character and is always willing to help out where he is needed. It has truly been an honor to watch him grow and develop

PAYTON PALADINO - SACRED HEART

For Payton Paladino, the greatest Sacred Heart fans are always close to home.

“I have been playing basketball at Sacred Heart since third grade,” Paladino said. “When I was a toddler, my papa would always take me to watch my aunt play ball, so I pretty much grew up in a gym. My favorite memories are always my family being at all my games and cheering me on. I love when the gym is silent and I hear my cousins yell, ‘Go, Payton, go!’”

Paladino brings a big work ethic and personality on and off the court for the Knights.

“Payton is a great driver on the offensive side of the ball,” said Sacred Heart head coach Chase Lewis. “He is a really strong kid, so it makes it easier for him to put the ball on the ground and get inside to score. He is also one of our best rebounders, as he is always ready to go and fight for boards and is very aggressive any time there is a loose ball. The best thing about Payton

into a terrific young man that no doubt will make a positive impact on this world.

“Patrick is so much more to this school and community than a basketball player. He is a young man who acts right, on and off the court. One day 20 years from now, he is going to find this article and be proud of the life that he has worked to make.” Perry holds a 4.0 GPA. He also plays baseball for Nemo Vista. He has committed to play basketball at Randall University.

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is his motor, he is always going all out. Payton also has a big sense of humor, and is always smiling and making those around him laugh.”

Paladino also competes in baseball, golf and trap shooting. He is a member of Key Club and Catholic Youth Ministry.

“I am excited to see all that he accomplishes, not just this season, but in his life, too,” Lewis said.

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PAYTON SCOTT - PERRYVILLE

Faced with the tall task of replacing key positions from last year’s team, Perryville charges into 2023 with a strong focus on growth.

Rising to the challenge to lead the Mustangs this season is junior point guard Payton Scott.

“I’m asking Payton to step in and play a major role in point guard, a position we’re lacking in,” Perryville head coach Welsey Kuhn said. “He is a quick learner and a hard worker, and I think he will pick it up and do just fine.”

“Being the point guard takes a lot of responsibility,” Scott said. “Even though it’s my first year playing that position, I want to be remembered as the hardest worker.”

As he grows in his new position, Scott draws inspiration at point guard from his favorite NBA player: Kyrie Irving.

“Kyrie is one of my basketball heroes,”Scott said.“Despite everything he has been through, he still loves the sport.”

With visible improvement each game, Scott and the Mustangs aim for a strong finish.

“My favorite basketball memory was winning the championship in eighth grade,” Scott said. “It was an amazing feeling for all of us. This year, I would love to help lead my team to the finals. We just have to have fun and keep pushing, no matter what.”

“I’m super proud of Payton and the work that he has put in,” Kuhn said. “To me, he’s really emerged. Payton is a strong-willed kid who is very eager for his shot!”

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Dropping four of your first five games to open the season could be enough to cause any team to fall apart early. For Clinton, however, adversity has served as motivation.

Led by senior forward and two-time 501 Basketball Team honoree Russ Hensley, the Yellowjackets have rebounded since November, developing into a competitive contender in the mighty Class 5-4A conference.

“Russ is a strong rebounder, a physical defender and a good finisher in the lane,” Clinton head coach Judson Smith said. “He can knock down perimeter shots as well, but what stands out most is his leadership ability. Russ has also grown a ton offensively and will be a major piece of our success this season.”

Clinton wins games through a combination of great interior defense and fearless shooting. “Our goals this season are to win a conference championship and return to the state tournament,” Hensley said.

“My personal goal is to do whatever I can to help my team win ball games.”

Hensley also excels on the baseball diamond and is well-respected in the classroom as a member of Clinton’s Bible Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Russ is a natural leader, a high academic performer and an extremely selfmotivated person,” Smith said. “Russ is going to be successful at whatever he decides to do.”

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RUSS HENSLEY - CLINTON TRISTAN CUNNINGHAM - RIVERVIEW

Following a successful season last year, which included a Class 5-3A conference and district title, Riverview dives into 2023 with motivation for more.

Led by junior guard Tristan “Tip” Cunningham, the much-improved Raiders eye the postseason as a legitimate threat to upset the top teams in Class 3A.

“Winning conference and district last year were some of my favorite basketball memories,” Cunningham said. “We were one of the youngest teams in the state, and after a tough summer of ups and downs, we pulled it out together. My personal goal this season is to win regionals and state and receive a scholarship offer to play at the next level.”

A vocal encourager with a great work ethic, Cunningham has set the bar high as a leader on and off the court. “Tristan exhibits great leadership on the floor,” Riverview head coach Kirklan Pettis said. “He does well at getting his teammates

involved. He has improved a lot this offseason, and we have high expectations for him to be one of our leading scorers again this year.”

“Tip can drive to the basket and hit a three-pointer,” said Raiders’ play-by-play announcer Shane Smith. “He hustles on defense and isn’t afraid to get in the paint for a rebound.” Unafraid of a challenge, Cunningham is committed to fighting to the finish for his team.

“Basketball has taught me to hold my head high in the face of adversity,” Cunningham said. I want to be remembered as a winner with a dog mentality.”

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BASKETBALL TEAM 501lifemag.com I 33 2 23

TYLER GOTTSPONER - WONDERVIEW

Tyler Gottsponer will do what it takes to win. One stat in particular proves it.

“Tyler plays extremely hard every possession and is a very tough player,” said Wonderview head coach Jerod Squires. “Tyler has led the team in charges taken the past two seasons and has played through pain in several games over the years. He is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team be successful, as evidenced in sacrificing his body in taking charges.”

Gottsponer earned all-conference last season and was Wonderview’s third-leading scorer, second-leading rebounder and leading blocker.

“Some of my basketball heroes are the smaller point guards and other small players in the NBA, just because they know that they have to put in a lot more work because they are almost a foot shorter than everyone else, but still have to score,” Gottsponer said. “It just goes to show you just because

ZACK BREWER - BEEBE

Heading into his final season playing basketball, Beebe senior guard Zack Brewer is ready to leave it all on the court with no regrets.

“I’ve been playing basketball since fifth grade,” Brewer said. “Over the years, my favorite basketball memories have been spending time with teammates on and off the court. This season, I just want to play well and help my team win. By working hard, communicating and having great defense, we’ll achieve our team goals.”

“Zack is a competitor, a team leader and a gifted scorer,” Beebe head coach Austin Harrell said. “Last season, he was our only underclassman to start and grew into a solid defender and a proven option to score. This season, I expect Zack to lead this team in all aspects: leadership, offense and defense. He has a chance to have a really good season in a tough league.”

Off the court, Brewer is well-known for helping others.

“Zack always tries to make his teammates better, on and

other players might be bigger and stronger, that you can still dominate in basketball.”

Gottsponer plays multiple sports, including baseball and track. He also participates in Future Farmers of America, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Beta Club, and serves as a volunteer firefighter.

“I expect Tyler to build off of his all-conference season last year and be one of the top players in our conference this year,” Squires said. “I look forward to watching him have a big senior season.”

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off the floor,” Harrell said. “He helps tutor his classmates, is respectful to teachers, volunteers with our youth and Pee Wee basketball teams and is well-liked throughout the school.”

Brewer hopes to be remembered for his work ethic and never-give-up attitude.

“If I could say anything to future student-athletes, I would tell them to keep working hard and do well in class,” Brewer said. “Basketball has taught me to always keep going, even when things get tough or are not going your way.”

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