By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Success in the fall always yields an interesting beginning to hoops season. Steve Ray knows that better than most.
In his fourteen years at Carthage, he has been able to put his entire roster on the court for opening night just one time. With the Tigers once again looking to make a deep run in the Class 5 football playoffs, he’s learned how to maximize every minute of access with his players.
“We try to take advantage of summer contact days and summer gym times to make sure we get in what we can get in,” Ray said. “We do everything to make sure the kids don’t feel like they’re coming in and starting over.”
“I tell them all the time: ‘nobody is going to feel sorry for you and the fact that you made a deep football run.”
Carthage posted a 12-13 mark last winter before falling to Nixa in the second round of districts. All-COC honoree Arkell Smith was one of three starters out the door.
Senior point guard Ian O’Malley and junior forward Alex Martini are the two members of the starting lineup back in the fold. Production-wise, Martini leads all active Tigers as he comes off a campaign with 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per night.
O’Malley carries a team-high 3.3. assists per game while adding a 7.5 point average.
Tucker Downing and Christian Talamantez round out the senior group, while juniors Taris Jackson, Marcus Huntlee, and Tyler Mueller add depth as returning letterwinners.
Sophomore Patrick Carlton also expects to produce in the post.
“I’ve got eight guys that I feel pretty good about,” said Ray. “This group is closer to what you will see from a typical Class 5 COC team.”
As the Tigers go searching for their first winning season in seven years, mental toughness might be the key to getting there. Ray called the handling of adversity a bit of a red flag in some games last year.
“It’s a sign of maturity and growth when you’re able to handle those situations better. I know this group wants to be good, but when you play 26 games, you’re not going to be perfect for 26 games. You have to find a way to stick in there and give us a chance to win.”
If the mental toughness is there, Ray likes the athleticism of his core and believes Carthage can compete with the best of the COC-Large.
“This has the chance to be an athletic group that can get up and down the floor and defend. We have two good scoring options in the post with Martini and Carlton. We have to find some consistent scoring from the perimeter to compliment that post play.”