By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Don Newton could easily downplay a Tigers basketball team that missed the playoffs last season and lost 80 percent of its scoring.
The coach won’t go there. After a summer of hard work and more this fall, Newton is confident that this will be the season where the Tigers end a three-year playoff drought.
“We are young and unproven,” Newton said. “I’m not hesitant to tell you we’re looking for the breakthrough year.”
Newton’s reasoning is two-fold — he’s optimistic because the commitment level is higher across the board in the program and because the percentages for making the playoffs are better in 16-4A.
Corsicana has a 66 percent chance of getting into the postseason -- four out of six teams make it — which is a lot better than his first two years when four out of nine made it.
But it’s more because the Tigers as a whole have improved their skill set playing summer basketball.
The Tigers lost top scorers Jack Saipongi, Tevin McDonald and Christian Hines to graduation. So there’s not a lot of experience on the current roster.
There are players who received varsity experience and others who played on solid junior varsity and freshman teams.
Center Ernest McGhee played the most out of the returnees, averaging eight points and three rebounds. He will be asked to score more. So will senior guard Tedrick Wilson.
Senior Dzifa Mallet, a 6-2 guard, had a tremendous offseason after playing some last year on varsity.
“Mallet has improved more than any kid I’ve ever had,” Newton said. “He’s been a good leader.”
Mallet is the poster boy for where Corsicana basketball can go. Last year’s team was reliant on football and baseball players. Remember the Tigers went to the state semifinals last year in football which hurt Corsicana in a nine-team district that started in late November.
In this day and age when athletes decide on a single sport when they get into high school — some times earlier — Newton’s program may hinge on players dedicated to basketball.
Three sophomores — 5-9 guard Tim Lang, 6-1 forward Jamaal Evans and 6-5 forward Lathan Carter — all will be counted on to contribute.
Juniors such as Mike Lewis, Anthony Jones and Clinton Wright will help provide depth and may emerge as top producers.
There could be a few football players come out including Daudren Martin and Raphael Watts.
The Tigers will have better size, and the commitment level is higher.
Combine that with Newton’s knowledge and feel for the game, and there is hope that the Tigers will be back in the playoffs this season.
“We’ve got a little bit stronger desire to participate in the program,” Newton said. “In the past they haven’t wanted to put the time in. These guys do.”