It is a milestone year for Robert E. Lee coach Alan Johnston. His 10th season at the helm of the Red Raiders and 30th overall as a coach.
The Red Raiders are coming off a breakthrough season a year ago. REL snapped a long playoff drought by finishing fourth in District 12-5A and reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.
REL returns two starters and four lettermen overall from that team and Johnston believes their experience from last year will be key to the Red Raiders booking another trip to the playoffs, or what Johnston likes to call the "third half of the season."
The first half is non-district with district the second half.
"We graduated (a lot of players) and have a whole new look with our basketball teams, so we are excited (to get it started)," Johnston said. "We are also picking up more kids from our football team probably than we have in my 10 years here.
"It will take us a while to get meshed in with the guys have been in the gym."
Lee begins that first half at 7 p.m. tonight with a home opener against Hallsville.
The game has been labeled Hoopsapalooza and will feature free hot dogs before the game to the first 500 REL fans in attendance, live performances from several school sponsored clubs and even a half-court shot competition and halftime.
Returning starters are seniors Jack Calhoun and Caleb Johnston. Calhoun played point guard for the Red Raiders last season with Caleb mixing it up in the paint and beyond the arc. Johnston averaged just under a double-double per game last season in points and rebounds and was REL's second-leading shooting from beyond the three-point arc.
"Jack is a very good shooter, so we want to move him to the shooting guard position, so he no longer has to face the rigors of handling the ball 99 percent of the time and we can hand that over to a couple other people," Johnston said. "Caleb brings us a little bit of size and was our leading rebounder from a year ago along with being able to score inside and outside."
John Michael Brattlof, a 6-4 senior, saw limited playing time last year, but is someone Johnston expects to be a big contributor in the paint as the tallest player on REL's current roster.
"He's a young man that we are going to lean heavily on," Johnston said.
The remainder of the roster features newcomers and/or players up from the JV.
It begins with senior Demodrick Barker, who will miss tonight's game with an ankle injury, but someone Johnston believes "will be one of the best defenders in our district and the area."
Senior D'Varius Taylor is penciled in at point guard and Johnston said his quickness and ability to find the open man will be an asset. Senior Kevin Ramsey was one of the top scorers on the JV last year for Lee and Johnston said is a "very good shooter, but needs to improve on the defensive end of the floor."
The top utility player for Lee, who Johnston believes is currently the fastest player on the floor, is senior Robert Pulliam.
"I think Robert can do a lot of things (not in the final box score) that will really help this team out," Johnston said.
Rico Major, a 6-2 junior, is the lone underclassman on the opening-day roster and someone Johnston believes will flourish this season.
The Red Raiders will compete in three tournaments this season while also facing Forney in the Burger King Classic (Nov. 30 at UT Tyler) and area rivals John Tyler (Nov. 22 at TJC) and Whitehouse (Dec. 17). Lee will compete in the Lindale Hoop Heaven Dec 5-7, the Lufkin Holiday Tournament on Dec 12-14 and the new LeTourneau Christmas Tournament on Dec. 26-27, who Johnston said intrigued him because of several Louisiana teams that will be participating.
"It's a unique group of young men that haven't had a lot of experience playing together at this level yet, but I really think they can get it done," Johnston said. "A lot of it hinges on who we get from football and how all of us come together and make this thing successful.
RAIDER RAP: Tonight's Hoopsapalooza will have live performances by the Southern Belles Drill Team, Good Vibrations and Drill Prep. Also the REL cheerleaders and selected members of the band will be in the gym to provide support.
Robert E. Lee Red Raiders
Coach: Alan Johnston
2012-13 record: 22-11 (7-5 District 16-4A)
Last playoff appearance: 2013 (lost in bi-district to Garland Lakeview Centennial, 60-41)
Returning starters: 2
What's New: The Red Raiders normally have the varsity roster set heading into the season with football players rarely joining the team as productive starters. Coach Johnston believes that will change this year as he envisions several players to go from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Offensive outlook: Fast paced with a little run-and-gun sometimes thrown in. The Red Raiders will combat their lack of size by looking to score in transition with most of his roster guards and/or forwards.
Defensive outlook: Lee has traditionally been a lockdown defensive team; not with a full-court or half-court pressure necessarily, but in-your-face zone and man-to-man. Johnston said that is not going to change.
Team strengths: Confidence coming off a first playoff appearance since 2007 will drive the Red Raiders to strive for even more. Lee is relatively young, except for returning starters Caleb Johnston and Jack Calhoun, but Johnston feels the team has more athleticism and that will be key down the stretch.
2013 Roster (for season opener): 1-Rico Major (6-2, Jr.), 3-D'Varius Taylor (5-9, Sr.), 5-Demodrick Barker (6-0, Sr.), 15-Jack Calhoun (6-0, Sr.), 21-Robert Pulliam (6-1, Sr.), 23-Kevin Ramsey (6-1, Sr.), 33-Caleb Johnston (6-4, Sr.), 34-John Michael Brattlof (6-4, Sr.)
2013-14 Robert E. Red Raiders Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 12 Hallsville 7:00
Nov. 15 at Lufkin 7:30
Nov. 22 John Tyler (at TJC) 7:00
Nov. 30 Forney (at UT Tyler) 7:00
Dec. 3 Jacksonville 7:00
Dec. 5-7 Lindale Hoop Heaven TBA
Dec. 10 at Nacogdoches 7:00
Dec. 12-14 Lufkin Holiday Tournament TBA
Dec. 17 Whitehouse 7:00
Dec. 20 at Rockwall* 7:00
Dec. 26-27 LeTourneau Tournament TBA
Jan. 2 Mesquite* 3:30
Jan. 4 at Longview* 3:30
Jan. 7 Mesquite Horn* 7:00
Jan. 10 at Rockwall-Heath* 7:00
Jan. 17 at North Mesquite* 7:00
Jan. 21 Rockwall* 7:00
Jan. 24 at Mesquite* 7:00
Jan. 28 Longview* 7:00
Jan. 31 at Mesquite Horn* 7:00
Feb. 4 Rockwall-Heath* 7:00
Feb. 7 North Mesquite* 7:00
# — District 12-5A game