TAPPS Boys Basketball Preview: New coaches abound in TAPPS 2-4A

Bullard Brook Hill sophomore Grant Hanks (left) will be one of the Guard's go-to players for the 2012-13 season. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

TAPPS boys basketball in Tyler will have a different look this year.

All Saints, Bishop Gorman and Grace Community all have new coaches.

Gone are TAPPS 2-4A veterans Gary Surratt, David Johnson and Joe Crawford.

Meet Eddie Francis (again), Paul Drake and Neal Welch.

Francis joins the Trojans for his third stint as head coach at All Saints, having accrued a 189-111 record at the school. He replaces Surratt, a coach that won a district title in his first year and took All Saints to its first final four in 2010.

The 2012-13 Trojans are young, but many of the seven sophomores that make up the core of the team have played together since fourth or fifth grade. The sophomores have lost one game in the last three years, going undefeated in seventh and eighth grade and finishing 20-1 in junior varsity last year.

Francis estimates the group has played as many as 200 games together on AAU and select teams, some with Francis as the coach.

Included in that group is coach's son Aston Francis, point guard Spencer Ball, post Brice Borgeson and guard Jaired Maddox. Seniors Trevor Long, Ruben DeLong and Collin Walker bring experience to a team that includes eight underclassmen.

"I just think it gives them a comfort level on the court knowing where their teammates are going to be," Francis said.

Drake takes over the Gorman team after one year as the head coach at Rusk. Drake served as an assistant at Brownsboro for six years. The Livingston native is a Stephen F. Austin graduate.

The Crusaders are the most recent Tyler school to claim a TAPPS 2-4A title, doing so in 2010.

Drake can turn to the services of Ben Ashworth, a senior point guard who is receiving interesting from NCAA Division II and III schools.

"Everything's going to go through him first," Drake said.

Fellow seniors Sean Goforth and Brandon Lackner will be among the top contributors on a team laden with juniors and seniors. Though two freshmen from last year's squad are now at Robert E. Lee (Matthew Weeks) and All Saints (Matt Brunson), junior Chris Danley grew three inches over the summer and will give the Crusaders a boost.

Welch, like Francis, is familiar with the team he inherits. After playing basketball for UT Tyler, he became an assistant at Grace under Crawford, now an assistant at Lee, for two years before winning the head job.

"I've been around the guys for two years so I'm comfortable with them and they're comfortable with me," Welch said.

The Cougars have been the most successful of the three Tyler schools the last two years. Both years Grace had an all-state talent to do the scoring, but this year there is no Craig Schambach or Jimmy Negem on which to rely.

"We've always had that one go-to guy where when he had the ball — and that's nothing against those players because they were great players — it was like we had to get them the ball and everyone else stood and watched," Welch said. "That's not what we're doing with this team."

This year's squad will try to be balanced on offense. Junior Verlo Levels tore his ACL before the game at All Saints last season after being the second-leading scorer behind Negem. He could be ready to step up as the top scorer this year, with shooter Blake Johnson, post Josh Boylan, sophomore Trevor Gunter and junior point guard Phillip McKinney also capable of scoring.

Interestingly, both Welch and Drake were hired by Jeff Smith, who was the athletic director at Grace until making the switch to Gorman in April.

With all the coaching changes, one constant in TAPPS this year is Wally Dawkins at Brook Hill. Though there's turnover with the loss of star Austin Langemeier, sophomores Grant Hanks and Phillip Kitt, along with freshman Alex Hale, have the veteran coach thinking this year's team could be even better than last year's regional finalists.

TAPPS Team Capsules

All Saints

Head Coach: Eddie Francis

2010-11 Record: 17-15 (6-8 TAPPS 2-4A, fifth)

Postseason: Did not qualify

Players to watch: Aston Francis (So. G, 5-10), Brice Borgeson (So. P, 6-2), Spencer Ball (So. G, 6-0).

Team overview: The Trojans graduated five seniors from last year's squad that fell a few games short of the playoffs, and with a new coach, All Saints will look drastically different. Seniors Collin Walker, Ruben DeLong and Trevor Long will be joined by two juniors, seven sophomores and one freshman. Many of the sophomores have been playing since fourth and fifth grade and will make up the core of the team. Among them, Francis, the coach's son, received the most varsity playing time last year. The Trojans lack size, with Borgeson, 6-2 wing Jaired Maddox and 6-3 freshman post Luke Lee the tallest players. All Saints plans to make up for that by pushing the pace and turning games into track meets, coach Eddie Francis said.

Quoteworthy: "The sophomore class lost one game in three years. We think we're going to have to have some success because of the success they've had in the past. I don't think they've plateaued yet. We're excited about what the future holds." — Coach Eddie Francis.

Season Opener: All Saints 84, Ovilla Christian 38, Friday.


Bishop Gorman

Head Coach: Paul Drake

2010-11 Record: 13-18 (5-9 TAPPS 2-4A, sixth)

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Players to watch: Ben Ashworth (Sr. G), Brandon Lackner (Sr. F), Sean Goforth (Sr. G)

Team overview: The Crusaders welcome back top player Ashworth, a first-team all-district player and honorable mention all state last year. Drake, in his first year at Gorman, said the offense will run through him, but not necessarily always end with him. Lackner gives the Crusaders muscle down low and junior Chris Danley, who grew three inches in the offseason, gives the team some explosiveness. Gorman will have an experienced team of juniors and seniors, with Drake expecting good things from senior guard Goforth. The Crusaders will be guard-oriented and a half-court defensive team. After missing the playoffs last year, Drake, who was the head coach at Rusk last year, said he thinks this team can return to the postseason.

Quoteworthy: "It's a team that expects to succeed. I'm excited about the team." — Coach Paul Drake.

Season Opener: Mabank at Bishop Gorman, 7:30 p.m. Thursday.


Grace Community

Head Coach: Neal Welch

2010-11 Record: 19-12 (8-6 TAPPS 2-4A, fourth)

Postseason: Lost to Houston Westbury Christian, 93-46, in area round.

Players to watch: Verlo Levels (Jr. G), Josh Boylan (Sr. P), Blake Johnson (Sr. G)

Team overview: The last two years the Cougars have relied on an all-state star to do the scoring, first with Craig Schambach and then Jimmy Negem. While Grace doesn't have that one stand-out player this year, first-year coach Neal Welch thinks the overall talent can take the team far. If anyone, Levels will be the go-to man for the Cougars. Levels' sophomore year ended prematurely because of an injury and was the second-leading scorer before going down. Johnson can light it up from the outside while Phillip McKinney will take over running the point. Grace graduated six players 6-2 or taller, but 6-4 Josh Boylan returns to anchor the effort inside.

Quoteworthy: "The one good thing about our team is anybody can be the high point man any given night. We're very unselfish. We don't have that first-team all-state player, but we have a lot of solid players." — Coach Neal Welch.

Season Opener: Grace at Crandall, 7 p.m. Tuesday.


Brook Hill

Head Coach: Wally Dawkins

2010-11 Record: 16-15 (6-3 TAPPS 4-3A, third)

Postseason: Lost to Fort Worth Calvary, 44-40, in regional round.

Players to watch: Grant Hanks (So. PG, 6-1), Phillip Kitt (So. W/P, 6-4), Alex Hale (Fr. W/P, 6-3)

Team overview: Even though the Guard lost three starters, including standout Austin Langemeier, to graduation, Brook Hill coach Wally Dawkins thinks this team can be even better than last year's. District newcomer of the year Hanks returns along with fellow sophomore Kitt. Senior Andrew Swink is the lone upperclassman in the starting lineup. The young team will be tested early and often with tournaments and Dawkins said he hopes by the last pre-district tune-up against Bishop Gorman on Jan. 5, the team will have developed into a district title contender.

Quoteworthy: "We're not very big, but they're going to play hard and they're pretty smart. I think it will be one of those teams like I had at Whitehouse where we rely on skills and savvy." — Coach Wally Dawkins.

Season Opener: Brook Hill at Denton Selwyn, 6 p.m. Nov. 27.


East Texas Christian Academy

Head Coach: Kurt Powell

Players to watch: Sawyer Dorsey, Sr. F; William Finley, Sr. G; Nicholas Hawkins, Sr. P.

Team overview: The Panthers return five players selected all-district on either the first or second team last year. Dorsey and Finley were both first-team selections. ETCA moves up from TAPPS 1A to TAPPS 2A, where they'll face Elm Mott Test School, Garland Christian Academy, Greenville Christian School, Longview Christian Heritage, Rockwall Heritage Christian School and Rowlett Rockwall Christian. Other players to watch for the Panthers include Hawkins, senior guard Phil Martin and junior wing Nick Neal.

Season Opener: Mount Pleasant Home Schoolers at ETCA, Nov. 27.


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