Wednesday is the first day boys basketball teams can start practicing, according to University Interscholastic League rules, and both John Tyler and Robert E. Lee enter with confidence on the heels of successful seasons a year ago.
Both the Lions and Red Raiders reached the playoffs last year. For REL, it was its first postseason appearance in six years while JT reached the area round for the second year in a row and made it five years in a row for the playoffs.
JT will play its first scrimmage on Nov. 2 against Athens and Laneville with two more high profile opponents, South Oak Cliff and Dallas Madison, on the scrimmage schedule for Nov. 9. Lee is slated to scrimmage at Whitehouse on Nov. 9.
Both teams play their season openers on the road Nov. 12 with JT at Marshall and Lee at Hallsville.
The Lions lost several players to graduation, led by Tyus Bowser, who shared district MVP honors a year ago.
But that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. Far from it.
Senior Jordan Caldwell was the district’s co-offensive player of the year last season with junior Isaac Warren the newcomer of the year.
“I am very excited about the upcoming season,” JT coach Cedeno Clark said. “I am excited about the team and that we’re pushing forward and looking forward.”
Clark added Keaunte Humber, a 6-4 senior, is another player to keep an eye on.
“He has the ability to play multiple positions and we expect a big season from him,” Clark said of Humber.
JT went 14-16 last season, but most of those losses occurred before the entire team was together after football was over. The Lions went 7-2 in District 16-4A with its only two losses coming against Jacksonville, which finished the season 33-1.
The Lions’ district season begins Jan. 10, 2014, at home against Nacogdoches.
Clark said that leaves a lot of time for the players to get on the same page and be prepared for the league season.
“District of course is a long way away and we have to start right now building some kind of continuity with one another,” Clark said. “Just try to get as a team and at that point of the season we are hopefully playing our best basketball.”
ROBERT E. LEE
The Red Raiders were finally able to climb up and over a postseason hill that proved too steep for half a decade. Now REL coach Alan Johnston wants to build on that momentum, albeit with nearly a new roster.
Senior Caleb Johnston is back after receiving first team all-district honors a year ago and guard Jack Calhoun, also a senior, is a returning starter from a team that finished 21-11 and fourth in 12-5A.
The rest of the roster is comprised entirely of players with little to no varsity experience.
“I like these guys; we’ve got a good group and good nucleus,” Lee coach Alan Johnston said. “These guys have grown up together and have kind of gone through the trials and tribulations together.
“We are moving up (a lot) from the JV. Everyone sees our kids and sees (everyone who graduated). We had 14 boys on the team last year and 11 of them graduated, but that is the beauty of high school sports. You don’t go out and recruit a new team, you take the next hand your dealt and make adjustments accordingly.”
Johnston admits this year’s hand does not feature much height. Caleb Johnston, who is 6-2, may be REL’s tallest player at the start of the season and he is playing guard.
Coach Johnston said the practices will consist of finding the right mix to win basketball games and get REL back to the postseason.
“We really haven’t worked on offense yet. It’s all been about fundamentals and a lot of shooting; learning to run the floor,” Johnston said. “We are going to put our players in the best position to have the greatest amount of success. We just pray that they have the success that I feel they deserve.”