ATHENS -- At the 14th annual Region XIV Conference Media Tip-Off, the men’s basketball coaches did their usual gushing over the strength of the 14-team league.
“The national buzz about the league is incredible right now,” Tyler Junior College coach Mike Marquis said. “Probably seven or eight teams could be Top 25 in America on the men’s side. It’s that good this year.
“Lots of transfers at some of the schools and a lot of good freshmen at the others. It’s going to be very, very competitive.”
Sitting in the crowd with the radio, TV and print media was former Trinity Valley Community College head man Leon “Red” Spencer, who nodded in appreciation as the veteran coaches paid their respects to the man with the most Juco wins in Texas history.
The gathering at the TVCC campus -- sponsored by the college and the Athens Daily Review, was also a time to say an unofficial goodbye to Scott Gernander, who retired from San Jacinto after last season with 640 wins -- good for 11th on the active coaches list.
Former Panola head coach Jacob Wonders will attempt to fill Gernander’s rather big shoes.
“Honestly, the time at Panola (2006-10) was good for me because I had the same experience replacing Scott Monarch, the all-time winningest coach at the school,” said Wonders, whose San Jacinto squad is picked to finish second in the South Zone behind Lamar State-Port Arthur. “I think that prepared me for it. It’s obviously big shoes to fill.”
Lamar State-Port Arthur, which represented the conference at the national tournament last March, received nine first-place votes and 86 points overall to lead the South Zone. The Seahawks are coached by Matt Cross, who had a short and successful stint at Texas College and has continued to win in Region XIV. Cross did not attend the media event.
Trinity Valley is favored to repeat as the North Zone champion. The Cardinals, coming off a 14-5 conference campaign, received seven first-place votes and 77 points overall. Paris and Navarro combined for six first-place votes and were not far behind TVCC.
TJC is picked to finish fourth again after going 10-9 last season. The Apaches return only two players -- 6-5 wing Jaron Johnson (John Tyler HS) and 6-8 post Abdi Nur.
TJC head coach Mike Marquis will have more help on the bench this year -- the Apaches have 10 freshmen -- with new full-time assistant Ifeanyi Koggu (TJC grad) and volunteers Carlos Wilson and Mitch Marquis (TJC grad).
“Mitch and Ifeanyi know everything about TJC and the system,” said Mike Marquis, whose team opens the season Nov. 4 at home with the Robert Pack Classic. “Carlos does a great job with basketball and relating to the kids, so that’s really been a Godsend.
“It would have been tough to coach this many (freshmen) with one or two people. The staff has really made it a pleasure, but the kids have been real responsive.”
The top 12 teams make the regional tournament, and the top four seeds get a first-round bye. The tournament, originally scheduled for UT Tyler, will move to TJC’s Wagstaff Gymnasium (March 7-11) for this year only after a scheduling conflict.
TJC athletic director Dr. Tim Drain said the league’s basketball coaches recommended that TJC host the tournament, and the conference presidents approved the measure. The other change was to move it up a day to Wednesday through Sunday.
NOTES: Jacksonville College athletic director Lynn Nabi announced that Curtis Carroll Field House has been renovated with new bleachers, lights and 150 reserved chair-back seats. … Dale Dotson (Lon Morris), Pat Smith (Trinity Valley) and Marquis (TJC) have all won more than 445 junior college games in their careers to rank among the leaders for active coaches. ... Second-year Jacksonville College coach Jody Bailey said his squad won't sneak up on anybody this year. The once-surprising Jaguars won 14 of 19 conference games and are picked third in the South Zone.
Trinity Valley women picked to win, yet again
Trinity Valley Community College finished as runner-up in the nation last year.
That left a bitter taste in the mouth of Lady Cardinals’ co-head coach Kenya Landers.
The only way to resolve that issue is to win a national championship Landers said during Thursday’s 14th Annual Region XIV Basketball Conference Media Tip-Off held on the campus of TVCC.
The event was sponsored by the Athens Daily Review and TVCC.
The Lady Cardinals are the overwhelming favorite in the coaches’ poll to win the conference. TVCC got nine of the 10 first-place votes for 99 points. Tyler Junior College is picked second with 88 points, followed by Angelina (68), Paris (65) and Kilgore (58).
Lon Morris got the other first-place vote. The Lady Bearcats, who played TVCC in the regional championship last year, is picked sixth.
TVCC returns All-American guard Sha’Kayla Caples as well as Region XIV Tournament MVP Jenea Barrett and post Alice Robinson. The Lady Cardinals also have Oklahoma State transfer Keuna Flax.
TJC coach Trenia Jones was elated by the return of Markisha Hawkins, an honorable mention All-American. She had several Division I offers, but elected to stay an Apache Lady.
The Apache Ladies open their season Nov. 4-5 at the Odessa Classic.
TJC hosts its Sleep Inn Suites Classic Nov. 10-12.
The women’s regional tournament is scheduled for March 7-11 at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gymnasium. The winner advances to the national tournament in Salina, Kan.
2011-12 Region XIV Coaches Poll
1. TVCC (7) 77
2. Paris (4) 74
3. Navarro (2) 71
4. Tyler 54
5. Kilgore 37
6. Panola 35
7. Bossier Parish 16
1. Lamar State-PA (9) 86
2. San Jacinto (3) 64
3. Jacksonville 57
4. Blinn (1) 50
5. Angelina 45
6. Lon Morris 36
7. Lee 26
(First-place votes in parenthesis; Bossier Parish did not participate).
1. Trinity Valley (9) 99
2. Tyler 88
3. Angelina 68
4. Paris 65
5. Kilgore 58
6. Lon Morris (1) 55
7. Blinn 52
8. San Jacinto 27
9. Jacksonville 21
10. Panola 17
(first-place votes in parenthesis)