Leadership Began Early for I. J. Ready at Parkview

Little Rock Parkview star Aaron Ross wasn’t playing well when he wasn’t sitting on the bench in foul trouble. It was a miserable night for one of the state’s top players. As a result, the Patriots struggled in the first half.

However, as the game wore on, Parkview’s little sophomore point  guard I. J. Ready took control. He rallied the troops, and eventually Parkview blew open the first round game, and routed Pine Bluff 63-34.

By that point, Ready was more than eager to lead. He averaged 17 points and 7 assists in his debut varsity season and earned his teammates’ respect as he quarterbacked the club. They were just as comfortable with him taking big shots as they were with Ross, who signed with Arkansas and eventually ended up at a prep school.

Ready led the Pats with 16 points in a semifinal win against Marion, and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds ands 3 assists in a 50-44 victory against Jacksonville in the title game.

If the media had voted for the tournament MVP, Ready would have won it. Instead, it was awarded to Ross, who totaled 13 points, 6 rebounds and a block in the title game. Ross was a great high school player and coveted recruit, but it was the young, diminutive Ready who stood out in the postseason.

“He makes his teammates better,” said Bill Ingram, who has coached Ready’s AAU team — the Arkansas Hawks. “There are very few players that can make everyone else around them better, and he is so committed to winning.”

That was all evident during the stretch run of his sophomore season. Ready blossomed even more with Ross’s departure. He helped the Pats to back-to-back titles last season with a hard-fought 69-65 double-overtime win against Jonesboro. Ready only had 11 points, but he hit two free throws to seal the game late. He had to contend with Hawks teammate Kahron Ross, who poured in 25 points.

However, Ready’s toughest battle may be this week. Parkview is again among the top teams in the state in any class, but city rival Hall beat them twice in conference play. The two teams are on the same side of the 6A State Tournament bracket and would meet in the semifinals. The tournament begins today in Greenwood with the semifinals set for Saturday.

But, Ingram still won’t rule out Parkview and his little point guard. Beating a team three times isn’t easy. Beating a team led by an experienced Division I playmaker is even tougher. However, Hall and McDonald’s All-American Bobby Portis were able to use a distinct size advantage in the first two matchups to hold off the Pats. However, Ingram is banking on Ready being clutch in March like he was the past two years.

“He is the best recruit and right now, he is the best all-around player in the state of Arkansas,” he said.

If Parkview beats Hall and Portis and defends its state title it would be tough to argue. Even if Parkview doesn’t earn a trip to Barton Coliseum, Ready will be considered one of the better playmakers to hit the Arkansas prep hardwood in recent memory.

Despite all of his success and clutch performances, Ready didn’t rack up scholarship offers because of his small frame (5-foot-9, 170 pounds). He committed to Nebraska as a junior, but decommitted when the Huskers fired Doc Sadler.

Sadler assistant Wes Flanigan, the son of Parkview coach Al Flanigan, landed at Mississippi State, and promptly began recruiting Ready. Soon after, he signed with the Bulldogs.

Ingram thinks Flanigan and Co. grabbed a steal, as they try to rebuild in Starkville. Ready will also have a chance to show his home state Razorbacks what they missed.

“He just needs to get on a college strength training program,” Ingram said.

No matter what happens this week, it’s a safe bet Ready will make the most of his opportunity at MSU. The heart and leadership that he has exemplified since his sophomore year could make him one of the better guards in the SEC, and maybe make the Bulldogs a contender.

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