By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With a new coach and a new system now in place, the Stockton Tigers look to build upon last season’s 11-14 record under second-year head coach Derald Henderson.
The Tigers went 18-8 in 2015-16, but had a bit of a hiccup last season with a change in coaches and a change in style.
Nevertheless, Henderson’s expectations are high for the 2017-18 Tigers.
“Our group learned about the challenges of a varsity basketball season,” Henderson said. “This experience will equip us with the tools needed to be successful for the upcoming season. If we improve on a daily basis, and emphasize playing together, I think we will have an opportunity to compete for a conference and district championship this season.
“As a team, we will still embrace offensive tempo and want to play fast. We will emphasize the importance of collective rebounding, which is essential to tempo.”
Only one starter is gone from last year’s squad, plus three more lettermen in Justin Pfeifer, Daymond Beckett, Skyler Fishburn and Drew Knoll.
The Tigers return a strong nucleus led by 6-foot-2 junior Clayton Hubbard, who averaged 14.4 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals. Hubbard was an All-Mid-Lakes Conference second-team selection and an All-District honoree. Henderson says that Hubbard is an aggressive offensive player who is always a threat to score.
Sophomore guard Drew Wheeler averaged 10.4 points as a freshman and shot 46 percent from 3-point range, making 64 of them. Wheeler, who was named to the Stockton Tournament All-Tournament team last year, has been working on his on-ball defense and playmaking skills.
Junior Gannon Kenney returns after putting up 8.6 points and pulling down 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-4 post player, whom Henderson describes as a great post defender and interior rebounder, is working to improve his offensive consistency.
Senior guard Jake Wheeler is described as a “playmaker.” He averaged 5.1 points, 5 assists and 2 steals per game last season. “He is great at creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, and is extremely aggressive on defense,” Henderson said.
Also back for the Tigers are: Connor Brown (5-11 senior) and Jacob Greenlee (6-3 junior).
“We have a variety of strengths,” Henderson said. “I think, as a group, we will be very consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter this season. Spacing is crucial in this game; thus, we hope our efforts to improve our outside scoring will create driving opportunities and extend defenses.
“Also, we have improved our ballhandling significantly over the summer. We should be able to deal with defensive pressure and break through full-court pressure defense.”
Henderson hopes to get contributions from newcomers Aaron Merrick, Silas Kenney, Haden Broksieck and Cole Garretson.
• Merrick – 6-0 junior – Hard worker; expected to guard ballhandlers the entire length of the floor.
• Kenney – 5-10 junior – Defense-first player; scrappy and strong for a guard; will compete at all times.
• Broksieck – 5-11 sophomore – Athletic, slashing guard with a good perimeter shooting game; has improved defense and rebounding.
• Garretson – 6-0 sophomore – Crafty wing player who is developing a perimeter shot; understands help defense.
“Our biggest challenge will be developing and instilling mental toughness,” Henderson said. “We need to be physically and mentally tougher. If we can improve our mind-set and preparation, we will improve our team rebounding and defense. Practice will be focused on mental conditioning and playing through adversity.”
The Tigers head to Lockwood for a jamboree with Liberal, El Dorado Springs and Lockwood on Nov. 14. They open the season on Nov. 21 at home against Warsaw.
“If we collectively buy into mental toughness and team defense, we could have great success this season,” Henderson said. “Overall, we need to take pride in protecting our basket and making it difficult for the opposition to score.”