JCHS varsity team is young but coaches still anticipate a good season
By Jonathan PleasantåWith their first real game just around the corner, JCHS basketball head coach Austin Atwood is looking ahead. With a young team and a lot of talent, the Longhorns could have a stellar season, but they are still facing one of the best regional lineups the 3 Rivers Conference has seen in years. Many of the teams Johnson County will face this year have strong veteran players returning to the court, but Atwood is still hopeful that his team will ultimately be able to overcome the challenges ahead.
“We don’t scrimmage until tomorrow night up here against Chuckey Doak, but I’m thinking we’ll be a lot better later than we will early,” Atwood said. “We’ve just got to get some experience. We lost a lot of guys who had played a lot of games. Carlton Tugman, Quinton Wright, Dusty Stout, those guys played the bulk of our minutes. We’ve just got to have some time to get better. We’re very young, with just four seniors. We have Ryan Mahala, River Cazire, Chase Kleine, and Chris Poteet. They’ve all played and had some time, and you know, River and Chris saw limited varsity action last season, but I expect both of those boys will be a big help. Of course, Mahala and Kleine, started some last year, but we have concerns with their health. Both are injury prone and we’re just hoping we can keep those two kids able to play.”
Fortunately, even though the overall team is young this year, many of those returning this season still had some good experience last year. Players like Chase Phillips and J.R. Speed will likely make up the heart of Johnson County’s offense and although both have a couple more years to improve, they have already proven themselves capable of keeping up with their older opponents. “With J.R. and Chase both being sophomores, it will take a while for them to come up to the physical level and speed of the game, but I think good things are ahead. Chase wanted to be a really good player last year, and I just hope he still has that drive. Sometimes it’s easy for a kid like Chase, who had some success early, to not work as hard, but that’s not been the case so far. He’s really worked hard and he and J.R. both have to bide their time a little bit. The more experience they get, the better they will be.”
Although the Longhorns haven’t had any real game time yet and things may change as time goes on, Atwood does seem to have a pretty good idea of how he is planning on structuring the team. “If we had to go today it would be J.R. at the one,” the coach said. “Chase Phillips would be at the two, Dalton Timbs at the three, Brian Dempsey at four, and Ryan Mahala and Chris Poteet stepping in at the five. River would be put in pretty quick and Tyler Shaw is still sort of a question mark. He’s having some health issues and we don’t really know where we stand with him. We’ve got to look out for his health. We’ve just got to learn to play together, get some game time under the younger kids’ belts. We’re going to depend on Dempsey a lot. We’re kind of counting on him to be really physical, get the rebound a lot, and score from the inside.”
Even some of the very youngest players have been a surprise so far, with a strong potential to see some new faces later in the season. According to Atwood, “I don’t think we’ll turn the ball over near as much this year, our boys are cautious. We’re just going to play as fast as we can without being out of control. Freshman Cody Bailey may end up having to play a little earlier than we were hoping. He’s probably our most physical guy right now in practice. I wanted to keep him out as much as I could for a while, but it’s looking like we might have to move him up. He looked pretty good and then Brandon Vannoy looked pretty good as well.”
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