By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
There’s nothing like a fresh start, but at Navarro everyone is already thinking about an emphatic ending.
That’s how these Bulldogs feel about the new season and their new coach, Michael Landers, who takes over a program loaded with tradition and boiling over with expectations.
“The coaches who were here built a great tradition at Navarro,’’ said Landers, who has won three national junior college basketball titles as a women’s coach and now takes over the men’s program at Navarro, where he has giant shoes to fill.
Landers sat in his office this week talking about the tradition Louis Orr and Johnny Estelle, who left Navarro to take an assistant coaching job at the University of Houston this summer, built at Navarro.
He talked about keeping the flame burning.
“I have the utmost respect for those two coaches. They set the bar high,’’ Landers said. “We’re going to work every day to reach higher to get there. You want to be in a place where they care about the program, and they care at Navarro. We’re going to get there. It’s a process. We have to be building daily throughout the season and we have to get better every day.’’
Landers knows it’s all new for his team, and he knows it’s all about the journey -- the one that ends with a title.
“Teams form, teams storm and then they perform,’’ Landers said. ”We’re going through the storm right now but we’re going to get there. They don’t give out any trophies in November or December.’’
Navarro knows about titles. Esetelle won three region titles in five years and went 126-28, including a 25-8 season last year.
His shoes are large.
He has stormed into Navarro with a fast-paced offense, and an in-your-face defense, and has already made an impression on his team.
“I think he’s a great coach,’’ said Toney Foster, a 6-3 guard who averaged 9.5 points a game last year, the most of any of Navarro’s six returning players.”I have a lot of respect for him. I’m anxious to see how this season goes. He’s very attentive to detail. He’s precise, and he’s a great communicator. And he’s got a lot of energy. He gets the team going.”
Landers brings back five players, including guards Brandon Adams and Duan Wright and 6-10 post Jaleel Cousins, who all saw time on the court a year ago.
Change is never easy, but everyone is on the same page at Navarro.
“Any time you get a new coach you expect something different,’’ Foster said. ”He’s different, but he’s great at what he does.’’
It’s always tough when a new coach comes in, and Estelle was loved by the fans and the players at Navarro, where he won three region titles in five years and went 126-28, including a 25-8 season last year.
His shoes are large.
But Landers comes in with the promise of winning and a change of pace — on and off the court.
“I like the style we’re playing,” said Shannon Lilly, a 6-1 point guard. “It’s a real fast pace, and we want to be on the other team and not let them get comfortable. From the moment the game starts until it ends, we’ll be playing at a fast pace.’’
The irony of this team is the pace on the court may be torrid, but Landers knows he will need patience for the run he wants to make later in the season.
“We’ve got six returners, and my system is different,’’ Landers said. ”The entire roster is learning now. I think we’ve got the right pieces, the players who can do it. Once we get these pieces together, I think we’re going to have a real good team. It’s a process.’’
Landers doesn’t need a star pouring in 20 points a game. He wants everyone to score and would love to see several players score in the 10 point range every night. It’s an all-for-one offense where if the other team shuts down one player, the Bulldogs will still thrive.
“Ideally, we will have a deep rotation and be balanced,’’ Landers said. ”We won’t have one or two guys to carry the scoring. We want to play smart basketball and share the ball.’’
But defense is at heart of this team.
In a perfect world we are going to get on people for 94 feet and contest every shot. Our identity will be based on our defensive pressure and our defensive effectiveness,’’ Landers said.
“We want to keep it on people for 40 minutes, and when we have the ball we want to make good decisions and have good shot selection.’’
“Eventually, we will be fun to watch. We have to teach a new style of play to a new roster. At times it looks like a Chinese fire drill, but we have to look at the big picture. We want to put ourselves in position to win region championships.’’
Navarro lost in the region title game last year to Lee, and that memory has stayed with the sophomores who are back.
“That game hurt a whole lot,’’ Lilly said. “I still think about it.’’
Foster said he still carries it with him.
“We don’t want that feeling again. We’re running from that feeling,’’ Foster said. “It is really a motivator. We worked harder this summer and we want to get back there and win (the title) this year so we don’t have that feeling again.’’
Foster believes in Landers, and said a key to his new coach’s philosophy is having a team that believes in each other.
“One of his biggest things is having faith in your teammates,” Foster said. ”If we believe in each other we can be the best we can be. He’s a great coach and if we do what it takes and if the team does what is asked of them then we will win.”