By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After 7-21 finish last season that ended with a 65-54 district loss to Lebanon, Central head coach Armando Johnson will field an entirely new roster in 2017-18.
“We did not meet our expectations for last year with the amount of seniors we had,” Johnson said. “I thought that we would be playing for a district championship with the amount of talent we had.”
Braden Dankert, Bryson Dankert, Robert Galvin, Ian Holyfield and D.J. Hardin comprise a quintet of seniors lost to graduation. Both Dankerts have moved on to play at Fontbonne University, Galvin at North Arkansas Community College and Holyfield now runs track for Indian Hills Community College.
The Bulldogs return one lone starter in guard Tavi Robinson.
The 6-foot-1 Robinson has played multiple positions for the team and is one of its best finishers and rebounders, according to Johnson who begins his seventh season at Central.
The large number of departing starters means a host of roster opportunities.
Newcomers who will challenge for playing time include 6-foot-1 senior guard Grant Harper, 6-foot-1 junior guard JayLin Williams, 5-foot-5 freshman guard Grant Harper, 6-foot-2 freshman guard Rohan Bansen, 6-foot-4 forward Tavon Johnson and 6-foot sophomore Montrey Williams.
Johnson has high expectations this season and feels at least one of his freshmen could make an immediate impact.
“Although [Harper] may be young and a bit small as a freshman, he brings one of the best basketball IQs that I have seen as a kid his age,” Williams said. “It will be hard keeping him out of our varsity lineup.”
While plenty of talent exists on the roster, Johnson realizes most of it is completely untested at the varsity level.
“Our entire year will be a coin toss because we have only one player who has had significant varsity experience,” Johnson said. “Our biggest strength will be in our ability to gel with one another. I believe that, as the kids learn to play with one another, they will begin to see more and more success as the season progresses.
With so many new faces, Johnson plans to focus on defense through a daily practice grind. If the Bulldogs hope to compete in a competitive Ozark Conference and Class 5 District 12 schedule, protecting the basket will be vital.
“I am having to start over in teaching the very basics of defensive positioning, closeouts and getting stops,” Johnson said. “I believe that how we defend will be the X-factor to our success or failure.”
Central opens jamboree play Nov. 16 at Walnut Grove, along with New Covenant and Everton. The Bulldogs tip off the regular season Dec. 5 against Ozark.