Looking back a year in the North Little Rock basketball program, the circumstances seem to be the opposite. Coach Johnny Rice came into last season with an interim tag attached to his title, and very little expectations.

All the Charging Wildcats do was win, and win in historic fashion losing only one game in New Madrid, Mo., last Thanksgiving and beat Fayetteville for the second time last season for the first North Little Rock state basketball championship in a generation.

Fast-forward to this year, and Rice expectations of a state title repeat with nine of the 14 members of his state championship team gone from a year ago.

The Charging Wildcats do, however, have talent. That was evident in the signing of Anton Beard to Arkansas. Beard, who has been playing at Parkview since his sophomore season, inked with Mike Anderson’s Hogs last week after transferring to North Little Rock.

Rice said Beard brings immediate leadership and toughness to his team.

"He’s a kid that when the team loses focus in practice or they aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, he gets them in line," Rice said. "I’ve been really impressed with his toughness both physically and mentally."

Beard was enrolled at North Little Rock until after his freshman year. After attending Parkview the last two seasons, Rice said Beard "came home".

"He knows all our guys. He’s played with all of our guys," Rice said. "He’s home."

Beard is a piece that Rice will lean heavy upon immediately. North Little Rock has three tournaments inside the state in the next three weekends before heading to Milwaukee for a national tournament there.

What a difference a year makes.

After being the state’s biggest surprise in 2012-13, the Charging Wildcats begin next week on a quest to defend their much-awaited state championship.