Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Sports

November 19, 2011

Area Boys’ Basketball Preview: Ending a drought

Culture change best way back to playoffs

Corsicana — 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.”

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