Coach Layton Knight is a happy man these days. In fact, the play of Knight’s Escambia County Middle School boys basketball team has allowed him to enter each successive contest in a relaxed mood.
“There’s no story out here; this is probably the worst team I’ve ever had,” Knight said, breaking into a smile just a few minutes before his team registered its seventh straight lopsided win. “Actually, I saw this coming. We were 12-2 last year, and most of these boys were on the team. They’re used to the program and they know what I expect. Most importantly, though, they hustle and they play hard.”
Hustle and hard play are the key ingredients in the team’s full court press defense, which has frustrated opponents and allowed the Eagles to spend the majority of each game on their own end of the court.
“We stress defense,” Knight said. “We use a press defense like the one Nolan Richardson used at Arkansas in the 1990s. So far it’s worked. None of our wins have been by less than 20 points, and we’ve had some real blowouts. We’ve got a lot of height, and everybody’s quick.”
Asked about the plethora of talent and teamwork evident on the ECMS boys and girls teams, Knight — who is also the school’s athletic director — said there’s no real explanation, that “it just played out that way.”
The ECMS boys have averaged more than 65 points per game during their season-long streak, and Knight has been able to sit his starting five — Tyson Moorer, Sheldon Williams, Cachaz Alfred, Jacob Dirden and TyJerrious Malone — and substitute freely shortly after halftime of each contest.
The Atmore native pointed out that the players have quietly savored the string of one-sided victories and have become better students because of it. And, while he’s happy as a coach to see the success, he also has another reason to be proud.
“The boys have been blowing them out, but they’ve been quiet about it,” he said. They walk a little taller and smile a lot more, and as good as they’ve been on the court, it has carried over into the classroom. I went to school here, and I want to help put Atmore back on the map, as far as basketball.”