By Jordan Burton
Chris Pilz has firmly entrenched himself among the Ozarks’ elite coaches, leading Waynesville to district championships in two of the last three years and helping produce some of the area’s top talent in that time.
But, Kellion Williams, Juwan Morgan and Joe Johnson have all exhausted their eligibility at Waynesville in each of the last three graduating classes and Pilz and the Tigers face a new task…
A complete rebuild.
Pilz must replace all five starters from last year’s team that advanced to the Sweet 16, but that doesn’t change the expectations at all.
“We lost five quality senior starters from last year’s state playoff team,” said Pilz. “This group of seniors played a vital role in helping build a state recognized program at WHS.
“Waynesville has a rich basketball tradition. I believe I have the best job in the state. I drive up GW Lane excited to go to work every day. We have great kids, facilities, staff, faculty, administration, parents, and community support. Our kids and coaching staff together have invested time to keep our program at a state recognized level. The young men on the 2016-17 team have patiently waited for their opportunity to play varsity basketball. Our coaching staff is excited to see how the respond to the challenge.”
Looking to make sure that 2016-17 is a reload rather than a rebuild is 5-foot-9 junior guard David Adams Jr. Last year’s sixth man has had the opportunity to compete against a host of talented guards at Waynesville, which has only added to his development.
“David Adams is a tremendous competitor and hard worker,” said Pilz. “He is tough and makes great decisions at the point. David’s leadership will play a pivotal role in our team success. He can get in paint and live on the line, has knack to finish tough lay-ups, hits the mid-floater and has improved his “3”.
“He made it hard on our senior guards last year in practice; he is a good defender and really made those guys work. We have a competitive gym. Graduated guards Johnson, Walker, Morton and Simpson definitely helped him improve.”
Pilz is also looking for a pair of 6-foot-3 returners to provide major contributions for a team that will need to feverishly adjust to new roles.
Senior guard Tavon Dipalma will add size to Waynesville’s backcourt and will be a player to watch after having a strong offseason.
“Dipalma will play more on the perimeter and will take on some of the PG responsibilities,” said Pilz. “He is good with the ball, has a quality outside shot and defends. He is our most improved player.”
Sophomore forward Tajhe Stewart found valuable minutes during Waynesville’s playoff run after moving up from the freshman team. Stewart could develop into a Kellion Williams-type of player in that his frame allows him to operate on the perimeter or on the block.
“He is much improved and will really give us player who can score, defend and rebound with best players in Class 5 basketball,” said Pilz. “We are much bigger and longer than last year which will allow us to utilize some players in multiple positions.”
Pilz is excited about the prevalence of size on his roster. The Tigers will have plenty of big bodies at their disposal with seven players being listed at 6-foot-3 or taller. That size will allow Pilz to give some different looks defensively.
Waynesville will be inexperienced, but Pilz refuses to let his youthful roster ease into experience.
The Tigers will again be challenged with a gauntlet of a schedule that includes McCluer North, Hazelwood Central and the Arvest Hoopfest which annually invites some of the best teams from Northwest Arkansas.
Throwing his team into the fire early and often in hopes of having them prepared for district play is again the goal for Pilz.
“I have always believed if you are going to achieve success you need to get players out of their comfort zone and compete against quality opponents,” said Pilz. “Our program is driven by individual improvement and daily team growth. Our 2014 team played against what I believe will be four first-round NBA draft picks in Jayson Tatum, Ivan Rabb, OG Ananoby and Malik Monk. Our kids like playing against the best!”
Waynesville will open the 2016-17 season at home against Ozark Conference rival Lebanon.