BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Unbeaten Farmington, defending champ Magnolia and host Blytheville have been getting the majority of the publicity as the top contenders to win the Class 5A boys basketball tournament this week.
That’s expected seeing as how the trio of teams have combined for a 92-2 mark.
But Little Rock Christian (24-8) and first year head coach Kyle Pennington are looking to join the championship fray as well.
“We just want to take this one game at a time, but we know there are a lot of good teams out there…I think there are a lot of good teams in 4A,” Pennington said. “It is a really good tournament and I think the best 4A has been in a long, long time when you look at the depth of teams.”
The Lions will get their chance Friday at 4:30 when they meet Magnolia (24-1) in a quarterfinal match up with winner getting to join Farmington (35-0), Blytheville (33-1) and either Dardanelle or Brookland in Saturday’s semifinals.
The Panthers have won of three of the last four Class 4A state titles under head coach Ben Lindsey with current Arkansas freshman Derrian Ford leading the way.
“They are a really good basketball team,” Pennington said. “Coach Lindsey does a great job. They are a team that knows how to win…They have built a great culture and jut expect to win.”
The Lions are led by 6-4, 200-pound junior Landren Blocker, whose brother Layden is a 2023 Arkansas signee, and 6-4 freshman Jayshawn “JJ” Andrews, the son of former Razorback and NFL offensive lineman Shawn Andrews.
“Landren Blocker has been a great player for us and is a kid that has continued to improve as a player, but also has a person,” Pennington said. “He has really moved over the last six to eight months and that has really shown on the floor.
“I hope he continues to take steps in that direction.
“JJ Andrews is the other kind of high profile Division I recruit and he is just a freshman and and the son of Shawn Andrews. He has really had a stellar year for us.
“He has been very consistent and very efficient with the way he plays. I have been very excited about his growth as well.
Little Rock Christian used a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter to put way Fountain Lake 66-44 on Tuesday.
Blocker had 21 points and Andrews 16 as four Lions scored over 10 points in the win.
“We played well against a very good Fountain Lake team and I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” Pennington said. “They have a good player in Colby Lambert and he played really well and they competed hard against us. But I was very pleased with how we came out and took control of the game from the tip.”
Pennington came from Russellville to Little Rock Christian.
“It’s been kind of a long process since I took this job in April and I was fortunate that Russellville let me out of my contract after being there for four years,” Pennington said. “I thought it was important to do my own on-boarding process so I kind of got started a little early with these guys when it comes to a coaching change. That’s helped.
“We went to team camps and did a few things and did some team building things along the way. We have built this program on good relationship within the program whether it is player-coach, player-player on coach-coach.”
The Lions tested themselves early to get ready for this moment according to Pennington.
“We had a really tough non-conference schedule that we put together and some games against some really good teams and lost some games,” Pennington said. “But the point of that was to get us ready for where we are now this week, which is to play Friday for a chance to go to the semifinals.”