The Brownwood Lions had to wait until last season’s halfway point to finally get the entire roster together, but all the pieces will be in place tonight when the 2007-08 basketball season commences.
Due to the Lions’ football season ending early, five members of the roster — 6-4 junior forward Parker Taylor; 6-0 junior guard Kenny Vaccaro; 6-1 senior forward Jordan Longoria; 6-2 sophomore forward Zach Green; and 5-9 senior guard Corey Burr — will suit up in tonight’s 8 p.m. season opener at Marble Falls.
“Last year we played about 15 games before we got the football guys and they were learning during the games instead of practice,” said Lions head coach Shane Perkins. “They’ll be getting to learn in practice instead of playing in games and not really knowing what to do. And since our first game is Friday, with the way things happened we were able to get four extra days of practice with these guys.”
The Lions could be without Taylor — a second-team all-district selection last year — for a few games as he suffered a collarbone injury in Brownwood’s final football game this past Friday. Taylor averaged a team-high 5.7 rebounds and scored 5.2 points per game for the Lions last season. In district play, Taylor averaged 7.0 points and 7.1 boards per game.
“Parker is iffy for Friday night,” Perkins said. “He told me (Wednesday) that the swelling was going down and there’s a chance he could play. It may be next week, though.”
Having the complete roster intact from the start should help the Lions in their quest to rebound from last year’s 15-15 campaign, which did not include a second straight playoff appearance.
The Lions are aided by the return of seven lettermen — 5-9 junior guard Rashad Deal; 5-11 senior guard Kevin Cunningham; 6-3 junior guard Mike Thompson; 6-2 junior forward James Seiler; 6-4 senior center Cody Clements; 6-4 senior center Russell Foy; and Taylor.
Deal and Thompson were both honorable mention all-district choices last year. Deal averaged 6.6 points per game for the season, while Thompson tallied 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 points per district game.
“We have some guys that know what it takes to play varsity basketball,” Perkins said. “Last year we had just three lettermen coming back and had a rough spell where the kids had to get used to playing varsity basketball. Knowing what the competition is like will be a major plus.”
Among the notable changes for the returnees, Deal will be moving from wing to point guard while Perkins stated Foy “has gotten a lot bigger. He’s put on a whole lot of bulk and weight and that’s showing on the court. He’ll be able to play a lot more physical now.”
Aside from the football additions, the only other varsity newcomer is 6-2 junior guard Ike Huestis, who is moving up from the JV.
Though the Lions are experienced, they will be without their two leading scorers from last year — 16-4A offensive player of the year Deandray McDaniel and second-team all-district guard Zane Smith. McDaniel averaged 20.5 points per game last season, while Smith chipped in 11.8 points per outing. Both are playing for Howard Payne this year.
“The main two things we have to replace are their quick scoring punch and their competitiveness,” Perkins said. “There’s also probably about 35 to 40 points a game from those two kids we lost. We’ve got kids that can score, but now they have to go out and prove it. “Last year we knew what are shortcomings were, but we also knew we had some kids who could score. When you have some kids that can score, we proved last year that you can hang around and cover up some things with it. We just have to get these kids some confidence when it comes to scoring in games.”
The strength of this year’s team heading into the opener is its depth, along with its athleticism.
“This is probably the most depth we’ve had since my first playoff team here in 2003,” Perkins said. “We have a lot of depth and we’re pretty athletic. We’ve got some speed and more size than we’ve had in the past. It’s pretty encouraging when you look out there.”
The Lions will have just under two months to mesh before District 16-4A action begins. During that time, Perkins stated he would like to see this team build the same competitive fire that drove last year’s squad.
“I want to see us compete for four quarters every game we play,” Perkins said. “We’ve got the depth and the ability, if we can just get where we compete for four quarters and it becomes a given that we’re going to fight as hard as we can, the rest will take care of itself. We have to eliminate the ups and downs and know, without a doubt, by the time we start district in January this is what we will do in every game.”
Looking ahead to the 16-4A race, Killeen’s experience level gives it the upper hand on the rest of the district, according to Perkins. After the Roos, it’s anybody’s guess.
“You have to put Killeen No. 1 because they have all their players back,” Perkins said. “After that, the district could end up like it was a year ago. Out of the other five teams, anybody can beat anybody. It just depends on who shows up to play that night.
“Everybody had big losses to graduation, so it’s not like any of the five have an advantage. Everybody in the district lost their main players to graduation. Whatever new guys show up and play at a high level, that will make the difference.”