This is a week of firsts for the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.

First game of the new calendar year. First conference game. First home game.

That’s right. Head coach Johnny Rice and his Charging Wildcats have not played a home game all season long.

Tournament play has dominated the nonconference schedule with trips to Milwaukee, Fort Smith, and Forrest City to go along with the Jammin’ for Jackets tournament in the Little Rock metro area.

Rice said there is a bit of an extra bounce in his teams’ step leading up to Friday’s opener against Cabot.

"They are excited," Rice said. "Hopefully not too much that they have to calm down in the opening minutes of the game."

Rice said there is no need to find any particular way to motivate his team.

"I won’t be shaving my head this week," Rice quipped. "I don’t have much anyway, so I want to keep it as long as I can."

Rice said the landscape of the 7A/6A-East has gotten a bit tougher.

"I think top to bottom every team in our league is better," Rice said.

Rice said Marion and West Memphis along with Jonesboro could be tough challenges for the Charging Wildcats.

"I think Marion has gotten much better," Rice said. "West Memphis isn’t as big as last year, but their guard play is better."

And Jonesboro could be as talented this year as they were last year with the likes of Caron Ross, Marquis Porter and Aaron Washington. Ross is the lone senior of the three.

The element of the Charging Wildcats’ game that is missing from last season is surprise. They aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year. Teams began taking notice about halfway through last year’s conference schedule last season, and now Rice says the Cats are marked targets.

"I think we are circled on a lot teams’ calendars this year," Rice said.

The Charging Wildcats are looking toward just one date — Friday night — the night of firsts.