Don Newton can sum it up in a few words, one phrase, really.
“It was a monumental start and a monumental collapse,’’ said Newton when he recapped his team’s season last year.
Simple enough, but then again nothing seems simple for the boys basketball program at Corsican High School, where the Tigers are looking — hoping and working and striving — for a breakthrough season.
They almost had one last year. It was right there, and then it slipped away.
The Tigers, who had been 0-27 the year before Newton showed up in 2009, ripped off a 21-6 start and were soaring into the playoffs for the first time in years.
Then came the “monumental collapse.” They lost their last six games, including a do-or-die play-in game with Nacogdoches that ended their season and left the Tigers hurting.
“It was heartbreaking,’’ said senior guard Mike Lewis, who has all but vowed to turn it around this season. “We had a goal of getting 20 wins, and after we got 20 wins I think we got satisfied. Everyone kind of relaxed.’’
Then everyone went to work.
The painful ending stayed with the kids, who say they worked harder and longer in the offseason than ever before.
Part of that journey was already in place because when Newton took over the program he added offseason basketball. His Tigers played spring, summer and even fall ball and according to Lewis they played with a new purpose.
“It was horrible. We didn’t like that feeling at all,’’ Lewis said of the lingering disappointment. “We had big hopes for the seniors getting to the playoffs and we felt like we let them down. We never want to feel that way again. It motivated everyone, and even the underclassmen who came up from the JV team came in on the same page. They got to see the mindset we had.
“We worked a hot harder (in the offseason). I’d say 110 percent harder,’’ Lewis said. “We’re going to get it done this year because every day we put in the work in the offseason. We pushed each other. Everybody is pumped up. We practiced harder every day, played harder and made each other compete harder.’’
Lewis, a 6-5 guard, is moving from the point guard to the shooting guard this season. He led the Tigers, averaging 14 points a game, and was a first-team All-District pick. He will be the leader on and off the court, and Newton believes he has plenty of talent to make the next step. The Tigers return nine players, including three starters — Tim Lang, a 5-8 guard, Jamaal Evans, a 6-2 forward, and Lewis.
“We have a good nucleus returning,’’ Newton said. “They worked hard in the offseason, and we played more games than ever before. Losing the way we did last year really motivated them. It was a tough pill to swallow.’’
Newton’s teams have made strides in a program that doesn’t have a lot of tradition, and making the playoffs and making a run in the playoffs would do wonders for the image of basketball in Corsicana.
“They had a top five NBA pick in 2006, but I think they have made two playoff appearances in the last 16, 17 years,’’ Newton said. “They went 0-27 the year before I got here. We’re trying to change things here, trying to spark a little bit of excitement.’’
Newton’s kids understand. They get it.
“We’re trying to bring a new culture to Corsicana,’’ said senior guard Klinton Wright, who will be a big part of this year’s team. “We’ve brought the elementary schools to our gym for games, and we have brought the teams from the Y to our games and they play at halftime. We’re trying to noticed.’’
That’s another reason last year’s collapse hurt so much.
“We want to be the team that does it, and we were close last year,’’ Wright said. “It was really painful, but it made us want to bounce back this year and make this year better than the past. We want to do something that’s never been done in Corsicana basketball history.
“We grew up together and we have good leadership on this team,’’ he said. “We have the guys who put in the work. We really worked hard in the offseason to get ready for this year.’’
The goal is there this year — and it’s not to win 20 games.
“We have the mindset to be the best team in Corsicana history,’’ Lewis said. “We want to win the district title and make a run in the playoffs, a real run. We want to turn the program around.’’
Coach: Ben Kinnison (4th year)
Last year’s record: 18-10
Last playoff appearance: 1978
Key Returnees: Daniel Pelzel (Sr., 4-year starter, 11.6 PPG, 4.6 APG), Juanya Pyburn (So: 2-Year Starter, 12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG), Tyler Morris (Sr. 4-year stater), Rowdy Barlow (Sr., 2-Year starter)
Team Strength: Experience )7 returning lettermen, and a solid group of seniors, led by Pelzel).
Coach: Darious Slade (2nd year)
Last year’s record: 8-21
Last Playoff Appearance: 2007
Key Returnees: Lane Dotson (So. Forward, 5.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.2 SPG), Jared Gray (Jr. Forward, 7.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.1 SPG), Seth Lachney (So., Guard, 12.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 2.3 APG on JV).
Team Strength: Speed, Quickness & Shooting
Coach: Eric Blenden (5th year)
Last year’s record: 18-8
Last playoff appearance: 2012-13, Regional Finals
Key Returnees: Robert Worley (Sr. Guard), Colton Clayton (Sr. Post)
Team Strength: Defensive Toughness
Coach: Marcus Simmons (4th season)
Last year’s record: 16-11
Last playoff appearance: 2012-2013 Bi-District
Key Returnees: D’Warren Simmons (Sr. Guard, 15 PPG, 4 SPG, 5 RPG), Jordan Johnson (Sr. Post, 12PPG, 8RPG), Trey Henderson (Sr. Wing, 6 PPG, 3 RPG), Casen Martin (Sr. Guard, 6 PPG, 2 SPG), Nick Johnson (Sr. Wing, 4 PPG, 2RPG), Brian Walker (Jr. Guard, 4 APG).
Team Strength: Chemistry.
Kerens High School
Coach: Don Enis (7th year)
Last year's record: 23-8
Last playoff appearance: 2013(lost to San Augustine in regional tournament).
Key Returnees: Nate Betts (Jr. guard) an All Region selection last year.
Team Strength: Talent and tradition.
Coach: Daniel Johnston
Last year’s record: 13-7
Last playoff appearance: 2013
Key Returnees: Jace Butler (Sr., guard), Draylon Sterling (Sr. guard), Connor Hill (Sr. guard), Mike Muncy (Sr., Forward).
Team Strength: Experience.
Coach: Phillip Eddins (2nd year)
Last year’s record: 11-18
Last playoff appearance: 2006
Key Returnees: Daniel Arteaga (Sr., Guard), Raven Huffman (Jr., Forward), Colin Haston (Jr. Forward), Austin Peppers, (Jr. Guard).
Team Strength: Quickness and versatility.
Coach: Brian Coffman (first year)
Last year’s record: 13-19
Last playoff appearance: 2011-201210
Key Returnees: Witty Busby (Sr. Guard, 11PPG), Kyle Chasteen (Sr., Center, 16PPG), Ledharius Freeman (Jr. Guard, 14 PPG).
Team Strength: Speed and aggressiveness.