By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The first two years that Mike Linehan has spent in Branson have been about making an impact at all levels of Pirates Basketball. That includes growing relationships with elementary-age players.
“We’re building a program where our younger kids are playing more and more,” he said. “Our staff is very involved with our elementary and middle school kids. As they start to get to high school, they’re familiar with our style. We’re eager to see these future prospects.”
On the varsity stage, Branson improved from eight wins to 12 in Linehan’s sophomore campaign. The Pirates graduated five of their top eight producers from that squad, including All-Central Ozark Conference First Team honoree Trey Benard. He was the catalyst for nearly everything Branson did on offense and his departure will mean big changes.
“We have a lot of shoes to fill in terms of scoring, but we’ve got a good young group coming up and seniors that can play. I’m excited about it.”
“Last year, we designed our offense around the scoring ability of (Benard). He averaged over 18 points per game. This year, everybody will have to chip in, score, and move the ball well. We’ll have to pass the ball quickly and attack.”
That effort begins with two returning starters: seniors D’Shawn Craigg and Aden Arnett. Craigg, the only full-time starter back in the fold, will reprise his role at point guard. He averaged 6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game as a junior, but his defensive prowess is what impresses coaches the most. He earns the task of guarding the opponent’s biggest offensive weapon virtually every night.
Arnett is back as the biggest deep threat after coming within 1/10th of a point from breaking the school’s three-point percentage record for a season (46%). His 9.0 points per game average is also the highest of any returner.
“He’s long, crafty, and can get to the basket,” Linehan said. “He’s got a high basketball IQ and I’m excited about what he could bring to us this year.”
Ethan Jones also made a quick impact in the second half of his freshman season once he was able to fight past a knee operation. While standing 5’10”, Linehan praised him for playing above his size and for his ability from beyond the arc.
Fellow sophomore Kyle Scharbrough, another 5’10” guard, also expects to take on an increased role.
Senior Darion Williams was a force on junior varsity last winter and will be asked to take full advantage of his 6’2” frame as well. He, junior Luke Allison (6’3”), and move-in Dominick Kimberlin (6’2”) represent size that Branson will need to compete.
“We’re tiny… basically 6’1” and under. Teams that we’ll play in this league have size. Our top goal is to make sure they don’t make us look small. We have to block out well and be aggressive on the board. We don’t want people to push us around and get second shots on us.”
Branson begins the season on Nov. 26 at Harrison (Ark.).