It’s been 14 years since Leonard Davis and Lance Chambers led Wortham to a state championship in basketball. Hard to believe it’s been that long.
These days in Wortham, the Bulldogs are just hoping to make the playoffs. Wortham hasn’t played in the postseason since the 2004-05 season, when the Bulldogs lost a bi-district game to Goldthwaite, 65-56.
New Wortham coach Owen Clifton, who arrives from Austin Hyde Park, a private school, is trying to change the culture in his first season at Wortham. He has established team goals and worked with the Little Dribblers program and gone to the middle school every day.
“For me, it’s a change of culture and the work ethic,” Clifton said. “We do a ton of loose ball drills, sacrificing your body.”
At smaller schools like Wortham it also helps to have players who have been to the playoffs in other sports. Only Blake Davis, a senior transfer from Fairfield, has played in a playoff game in any sport. “You have to get used to winning,” Clifton said.
That has happened at schools such as Hubbard, which made the playoffs in basketball and baseball last school year. That has carried over to football this season with the Jaguars going from 0-10 to the regional semifinals.
Mildred has done the same in basketball. The Eagles were tri-district champions in basketball and made it to the area round of the playoffs last season after playoff runs in baseball and football. Mildred had gone since 1992 when it last made the basketball playoffs.
“We have a good group of kids,” said first-year Eagles head coach Daniel Johnston, who was an assistant last season. “And we showed them how it was to be a varsity basketball player. They really bought into it. They took what we sold them.”
Rice only has gone four years without a playoff appearance, but for Eddie Barker, in his ninth season, that is an eternity.
The Bulldogs were 3-9 and finished in fifth place in district last season. He sees improvement this season and believes Rice can make the playoffs.
“We’ve always had a saying about hanging a banner in the gym,” Barker said. “Now it’s ‘raise the banner.’ The Dallas Mavericks had a T-shirt that said that when they won the NBA championship. I’m going to start wearing that shirt once a week in practice.
“They’re hungry. We got third place in football and just missed on points. We did come close in football, so these kids believe they can win.”
New Blooming Grove coach Ben Kinnison may have the toughest task in front of him — the Lions haven’t made the playoffs since 1979, according to school records.
So Kinnison is using the same philosophy that Clifton is using in Wortham.
“It’s hard honestly,” Kinnison said. “You have to get kids to buy in. I have a bunch of young kids. We have a motto, ‘change the culture.’ We have to try and create a winning atmosphere.”
Blooming Grove Lions
Coach: Ben Kinnison
Years at Blooming Grove: 2
2010-2011 Record: 2-27
Last Playoff Appearance: 1979
Key Returnees: PG Daniel Pelzel, P Jacob Conger
Team Strength: Halfcourt defense. “Our kids get after it and help on penetration and keep people out of the lane,” Kinnison said.
Comment: The Lions tied for seventh in District 14-2A with a 1-11 record ... sophomore point guard Daniel Pelzel was the 14-2A Newcomer of the Year and the Golden Circle Newcomer of the Year ... Pelzel averaged 9 points and 5 assists per game ... Conger is a solid inside scorer ... sophomore forwards Wes Tipping and Sam Hooser are the Lions’ top newcomers.
Coach: Don Enis
Years at Kerens: 5
2010-2011 Record: 24-4
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11, regional finalists
Key Returnees: G Paul Williams, P Tobyus Thomas, G Kevin Townsel
Team Strength: Quickness. “We’re going to play good defense and press more than what we have. It’s a work in progress,” Enis said.
Comment: The Bobcats lost to eventual state champion Eula, 53-51, in the regionals finals ... Kerens led by double digits in the first half ... Williams, a senior, is the only returnee that received significant playing time last season as the first substitute off the bench ... Thomas, a 6-2 junior, got some playing time as the season went along and he’s a good shooter from inside and outside ... Townsel, a 5-9 point guard, is a smart player who brings a lot of quickness to the backcourt.
Coach: Eddie Barker
Years at Rice: 9
2010-2011 Record: 7-21
Last Playoff Appearance: 2006-07, bi-district finalists
Key Returnees: PG Shaquille Fields, P Hagen Barlow, G/P Matt Saxon
Team Strength: Floor sense. “We’re really running up and down the floor well. Our fast break stuff is going well,” Barker said.
Comment: Dalton Pike, a junior, has made big strides after playing football this season. The 6-4 forward is more aggressive and he can score ... Fields, a senior, is a four-year starter and is Barker’s coach on the court ... Ragan Henderson, a senior, had a great football season and Barker thinks that will carry over to basketball. He is a beast on the boards.
Frost Polar Bears
Coach: Eric Blenden
Years at Frost: 2
2010-2011 Record: 23-6
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11, area finalists
Key Returnees: SG Danial Steels, PG Jacob Stroder
Team Strength: Guard play.
Comment: The Polar Bears went undefeated in district last season, and lost top scorers Philip Page and Kyle Montgomery ... the Polar Bears lost to Roxton in the area round of the playoffs, 66-61 ... Steels injured his shoulder last season and missed most of the basketball season, but he did play in the playoff game, scoring 23 points ... Stroder, a junior, will run the Polar Bears offense again this season.
Coach: Adam Louis
Years at Dawson: 1
2010-2011 Record: 14-12
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11, bi-district finalists
Key Returnees: G Slade Chasteen, G Nathan Blair, G Tyler Frazee, P Mark Martinez
Team Strength: Defense. “We’re just real tough. We move our feet well,” Louis said.
Comment: The Bulldogs lost to Itasca in the first round of the playoffs last season, 90-80 ... Louis takes over for Jordan Revill after coaching at 4A Sante Fe as an assistant ... Louis was the head coach for the girls team in Santa Fe two years ago ... Dawson’s senior guards — Chasteen, Blair and Frazee — are all tough defenders, handle the ball well and will drive to the basket without fear .. Martinez, a 6-0 junior, is a good shooter.
Coach: Brian Coffman
Years at Hubbard: 3
2010-2011 Record: 24-9
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11, regional quarterfinalists
Key Returnees: C Dae’Voddrick Williams, PG Cole Hill, G Jamel Jones
Team Strength: Speed. “We’re going to do a lot of full-court pressing, man-to-man defense and get the ball up the court as fast as we can,” Coffman said.
Comment: The Jaguars lost to Kerens in the regional quarterfinals after going 11-1 to win the District 16-1A title last season ... Williams a 6-4 senior and the 16-1A Defensive Player of the Year last season, averaged 17.8 points, 17.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 5.7 blocks per game ... Hill, a 6-1 senior and a first-team all-district selection, averaged 4.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 4.9 steals per game .. Jones, a 5-10 senior, averaged 7.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 5.2 steals per game ... sophomore guards D’Warren Simmons and Casey Jones and junior guard Bradley Walker are the top newcomers.
Coach: Daniel Johnston
Years at Mildred: 1
2010-2011 Record: 18-13
Last Playoff Appearance: 2010-11, area finalists
Key Returnees: F Nic Shimonek, PG Daniel Folsom
Team Strength: Depth. “We have the experienced players in Nic and Daniel and a good nucleus of juniors and sophomores who are going to play big minutes,” Johnston said.
Comment: Johnston said he will carry 12 players on his varsity roster, but most of them are on the Mildred football team that has advanced to the third round of the playoffs ... Shimonek, a junior, was the district MVP last season and an all-region picks, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds per game ... Folsom, a senior, was an all-district pick last season averaging 8 points and 4 assists ... sophomore guards Jace Butler and Draylon Sterling and junior post Jonathan Harrison are the top newcomers for the Eagles.
Coach: Owen Clifton
Years at Wortham: 1
2010-2011 Record: 12-13
Last Playoff Appearance: 2004-05, bi-district finalists
Key Returnees: SG Cooper Warren, PG Brysen Rhodes, P Chris McDaniel
Team Strength: Guard play. “Our posts are pretty quick, so we’re going to try to press a little and try to get up and down the floor,” Clifton said.
Comment: The Bulldogs finished fourth in District 16-1A DI last season with a 6-6 record, including a 5-1 mark in the second half of district with the only loss to district champion Hubbard ... Warren, a senior, averaged 20 points per game and was a first-team all-district pick ... Rhodes, a sophomore, was the Newcomer of the Year in district ... McDaniel was second-team all-district ... Tyvon Freeman, a sophomore, should be one of the area’s top newcomers.