By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Let's not talk about last year.
Just tuck that away for now, because the kids at Corsicana High remember a late season slump and missing the playoffs by just one game better than anyone.
And if that makes this team hungry and more determined to get there this season, then that's just find with the players and coaches of the Corsicana boys basketball team, who begin their District 16-4A season Friday at home.
“I'm excited,'' said senior Mike Lewis, who was an All-District first-team player and All-Golden Circle player a year ago. “We're better because we have put in the extra work, and we have players who are more focused and want to work hard and want to win.''
The Tigers will get a chance to prove their point right away. They open against defending District 16-4A champ Whitehouse, which is favored to win the district again with last year's district player of the year Pat Mahomes leading the way.
Mahomes, a quarterback who threw for more than 3,000 yards and has committed to Texas Tech, was named the AP's Football Player of the Year in Texas. He is also a star in basketball as well as baseball.
Corsicana couldn't face a bigger test in its district opener.
“If we beat them it will build our confidence,'' said Lewis, who leads the team in scoring, averaging 14 points a game. He also is averaging 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
The Tigers aren't picked to finish in the top four teams in the district. Whitehouse and Jacksonville are the favorites, and Corsicana is picked fifth.
“The history of Corsicana basketball may be hurting us,'' said Coach Don Newton, who feels this year's team can change that negative image. “They picked those teams in October. Everybody has changed a lot.''
Newton knows his team is much better than a year ago, but he feels the entire district is on an upswing.
“The district is way up from last year,'' he said. “Everybody has improved dramatically. The overall records are really solid. We're 12-7 and everybody has a better record than us except Tyler.''
Newton knows the top of the district is loaded.
“Marshall was ranked 23rd in the state and was (21-1) and then last week Whitehouse and Jacksonville both beat Marshall,'' he said,.
Newton believes his kids can and will reach the playoffs.
“I like our team,'' he said. “I like our fight. The record isn't as good as we thought it would be but I do think we're improving and in a good spot. We have a strong desire to succeed, and we don't have any quit in us.''
The Tigers have had some close games but those bumps in the road might help in the long run. Everything changes on Friday when district begins because now everything counts — a 10-game run that will decide who makes it to the postseason.
“We've had some tough losses,'' said junior Danair Martin, who is averaging eight points and eight rebounds a game. “But those losses will help us. We don't want that feeling again, and we're focused on making the playoffs even more after last year. We lost some tough games and missed the playoffs by one game.''
It's a new year and a new district season.
“We're a different team than we were last year (going into district),'' Martin said. “We have all improved. We rebound better, we shoot better and we are in better shape. We are playing Whitehouse and it would mean a lot to beat the No. 1 team in the first game.''
Ralph Watts, a guard who averages nine points an game and leads the Tigers in assists (4.5 assists per game), feels the same.
“We're always the underdogs, but eventually people will see,'' said Watts of making the playoffs. He's confident Corsicana can stay with Whitehouse in the opener .
“They put on their shoes on just like we do. We don't quit. We play our hearts out and we play for each other. It should be a great game, and if we beat them it will make a huge statement.''