The562’s coverage of Jordan Athletics is sponsored by former LBUSD superintendent Chris Steinhauser.
Coming off a Moore League championship and a historic CIF-SS Division 4A title, the question in J-Town is no longer “What if?” it’s “What’s next?”
When Chris Francis took over on the North Side a little over two years ago, there was optimism surrounding a proud program looking to regain its relevance in the Long Beach hoops scene. In his second season as head coach, that mission was accomplished, and the Panthers have earned their respect–and the target that comes with it.
But Francis is clear-eyed about the season ahead, and knows there’s a lot to replace and rebuild from last year’s championship season.
“It’s a matter of being honest with yourself and accepting the hand that you have,” Francis said. “We accept what we have, we embrace what we have, and we’re working with what we have … Our expectations aren’t the North Side’s expectations. We always believe in having realistic expectations and we’re gonna continue to be that way. And our realistic expectation is just to be the best we can be, and try to hit that stride when league comes and then see what happens.”
J-Town’s backcourt trio of Frankie Chambers, Dennis Redmond, and Kane Young all graduated from last year’s squad, taking a large chunk of the scoring along with them. Those three, along with forward Jerome Wilson, are reunited at Long Beach City College this season, leaving plenty of room in Jordan’s rotation for new guys to step up.
What the Panthers do have is a deep and talented junior class. Some of those 11th graders–like captains Daveyon Chisom and Jaymari Redmond–have extensive varsity experience, while others have been waiting their turn as role players.
Chisom is a lockdown defender who takes pride in guarding multiple positions, and he exemplifies the toughness and grit that’s typical of any successful Francis team. He said he’s been working hard this offseason to improve his jump shot and add more dimensions to his game.
After starting 53 of the 63 games of the Chris Francis era in J-Town, Chisom knows it’s his time to step up as a veteran leader for this team.
“It’s not unexpected, I’ve known that since freshman year, so it’s no pressure on me,” said Chisom of his new responsibilities as an upperclassman. “I just want to get the young guys involved and get them better. Hopefully I can take that big step and have a good year.”
Redmond brings a needed scoring spark, with great quickness and athleticism on the perimeter. He’s been away from the basketball program while starting at cornerback on the football team, but he returns as one of the most experienced players on the court. He isn’t afraid of taking (and making) the big shot, as he showed with his game-winning, buzzer-beating three against Lakewood last season.
One of the players expected to take a big step forward this year is junior Benjamin “BJ” Taylor. He played varsity minutes as a sophomore, but will have a larger role in the season ahead. He’s a few inches taller, now standing 6-foot-3, and he’s hoping to pick up some of the scoring load for J-Town.
“I want to showcase my name, come out and dominate and score, and fill in the roles we had last year,” Taylor said of his goals for the season. “The threes have been going in for me, I’ve been working on that.”
Francis is also high on junior Jamar Andrews, who had a productive track season last spring and has returned as a better all-around athlete, in addition to being a more polished basketball player.
“His conditioning, his stamina, his vertical has improved drastically,” Francis said of Andrews. “He’s been working on his jumper so you can see that what he puts into the game he’s starting to get back, so I’m really excited about him. I think he could be one of the breakout players in the area.”
After last year’s success, the Panthers have jumped up three CIF divisions, now up to 3AA. That’s where Francis hopes to continue having success, and he won’t put too much focus on trying to defend last year’s Moore League title.
“That’s never something that I will put on the team,” Francis explained. “We want to finish in the top four in the Moore League and then we want to see what happens after that. Would we love to defend our Moore League title? Of course. We’re going to try to defend it with everything we’ve got, but we’re not going to let winning or losing the Moore League define who we are as a program. Because the ultimate goal is to win the last game that we play.”
J-Town opens the season with a road game at Rancho Dominguez Prep on Nov. 28, then the Panthers will welcome in Mayfair for their home opener on Dec. 4.