With a young but talented group of players, the Tyler Junior College Apaches are embarking on the basketball season.
Back are Todd Eaglin, a 5-11 point guard from The Woodlands, and Jon Alexander, a 6-6 forward from Toronto.
The Apaches, however, lost one of the most talented players anywhere when 6-8 forward Dale Jones of Waterloo, Iowa, went down with a knee injury.
Jones had surgery and TJC coach Mike Marquis said he is "doing well." Jones is an academic qualifier and Marquis is not sure if he will return to Tyler next season or use his three years of eligibility at the next level. Drake has offered a scholarship to the standout player.
The Apaches get their season underway this weekend with the annual Jimmy Butler Classic, named after the former Apache and current Chicago Bulls standout, at Wagstaff Gymnasium.
Games Friday have TJC meeting Brookhaven College at 7:30 p.m., with the first game at 5 p.m. between CYM Academy, a prep school from Irving, and Southwestern Christian College. On Saturday, TJC meets SW Christian at 4 p.m. with Brookhaven taking on CYM at 2 p.m.
Despite the loss of Jones, Marquis, who is entering his 13th year as head coach of the Apaches, is confident his youngsters will grow up.
"We lost a special group of kids that did well for us last year; and now we have a whole new group of freshmen in here who have not played a college game yet," Marquis said. "I'm excited to see how they react."
Leading the way this year will be Eaglin and Alexander.
"Great, great young men, fabulous to be around," Marquis said of the two. "They have great work ethics whether in a drill, in the weight room or the classroom — very competitive and it helps the young players see what is to be expected.
"They are more verbal than they were last year, which is fun to see their maturity and growth — couldn't have finer people."
Marquis said the eight freshmen "have a chance to be good college basketball players."
"The two local guys — Dominique (Shaw, 6-4) from Lufkin and Levi (Yancy, 6-9) from White Oak have worked hard and been impressive," he continued. "As far as the others from farther away — Vamba (Donzo, 6-6, Philadelphia), shoots the ball well, Faith (Pope, 6-7, Mount Pleasant, Iowa) is extremely athletic, and inside Chuka (Eneh, 6-7, Dallas), Ravaughn (Gayle, 6-8, Ontario) and Tyler (Miller, 6-6, Milwaukee) are starting to improve and getting used to the physicality of the game."
Expected to start Friday are Eaglin at point guard, Pope at the two guard, Shaw at three guard, Gayle at four and Alexander at five.
Marquis has two top-notch assistant coaches in Jonathan Edwards and Mitch Marquis, who are sons of coaches and played for Marquis at TJC.
"… Wish they could play now," the elder Marquis said. "Jon Edwards is a great young man, whose demeanor works well with the kids and he does a great job teaching the post play. Mitch, his passion for the game has always separated him from others; his passion for basketball allows him to pour it into coaching."
SMOKE SIGNALS: CYM (Creating Young Minds) Academy is a prep school in Irving, which Marquis said will have four Division I signees. … The TJC Apache Ladies' preview will be in Saturday's Tyler Morning Telegraph. The women play Coastal Bend in Beeville on Saturday.
2013-14 TJC Men's Basketball Schedule
Nov. 1 — ^Brookhaven 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 — ^SW Christian 4 p.m.
Nov. 8 — +Lone Star-Tomball 5 p.m.
Nov. 9 — +Cedar Valley 3 p.m.
Nov. 15 — #NW State JV 8 p.m.
Nov. 16 — #Weatherford 5 p.m.
Nov. 26 — *Lamar State-PA 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 — *Angelina 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 — *at Jacksonville 4 p.m.
Dec. 11 — *Lee 7 p.m.
Dec. 31 — Houston CC 2 p.m.
Jan. 4 — *at Blinn, 4 p.m.
Jan. 8 — *Coastal Bend 6 p.m.
Jan. 11 — *at San Jacinto 4 p.m.
Jan. 18 — *at Trinity Valley 4 p.m.
Jan. 22 — *Panola 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25 — *at Paris 4 p.m.
Jan. 29 — *Bossier Parish 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1 — *at Navarro 4 p.m.
Feb. 5 — *Kilgore 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 — *Trinity Valley 4 p.m.
Feb. 15 — *at Panola 4 p.m.
Feb. 19 — *Paris 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 — *at Bossier Parish 4 p.m.
Feb. 26 — *Navarro 7:30 p.m.
March 1 — *at Kilgore 4 p.m.
^Jimmy Butler Classic, TJC
+Kilgore Classic, Kilgore College
#Sleep Inn & Suites Classic
*Region XIV game