By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Matt Powell’s first season at Lamar couldn’t have gone much better.
The Tigers went 18-11, winning the Class 3 – District 12 championship, while also coming up just shy of a Big 8 West crown and sent two players on to college programs. All of this at what is known at a football school.
While the roster will have some pockets of inexperience and new faces with Jonny Jeffries (MSSU) and Truman Kaderly (Oklahoma Wesleyan) both moving on – part of three departed All-Big 8 selections, Powell is excited about having a pair of starters back an entire program more in tune with his system.
“I thought we had a very good summer,” said Powell. “There is no doubt it was easier when talking about system. We didn’t install anything new and everyone was on the same page with everything we were running. We were simply able to focus on improving individually and learning how to play together with everyone’s new or expanded role.”
With six letterwinners returning Lamar will have some experience, but several players will be counted on to shoulder loads unfamiliar from last season.
Leading the way will be senior J.D. Bishop, who returns after averaging 10 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 2.2 APG.
Bishop is one of the conference’s most experienced returners and will be counted on to lead the team at both ends of the floor.
“JD is someone that we know we can count on every time we step on the court, whether it’s at practice or in a game. He will have to do a lot of things for us to be successful. We need others to elevate their game and not settle on watching JD.”
Junior all-around athlete Case Tucker also returns after starting as a sophomore. He averaged 8.2 PPG and 3.9 RPG in 2018-19.
Powell is hopeful his perimeter shooting and frame will allow him to be an even more consistent scorer this winter.
Seniors Donte Stahl, Wyatt Hull and Connor O’Neal will provide leadership and a physical presence on both ends.
“(Stahl) will help with the PG duties and is good defender, as well as a capable shooter,” said Powell. “Hull is a great rebounder and will be a vocal leader. Connor will be very important to our success. He’s a big body around the basket. We need him to demand the ball and be a force on both ends of the floor.”
Sophomores Mason Gastel and Connor Schoff will also see minutes in the backcourt. Gastel, who played significant minutes as a freshman, will be counted on to facilitate and score this season.
“Mason has improved in every area,” said Powell. “Last year I think the length of the season got to him a little bit being a freshman. We need him to be more consistent this year.”
Trace Willhite and Trey Evans will also compete for varsity minutes.
One of the biggest hurdles for Lamar this season will be assessing and fulfilling roles as everyone gets used to expanded minutes at the varsity level.
While that adjustment can vary from team to team, Powell understands that it’s a challenge that should be met with excitement by his players.
How quickly this group gets acclimated will impact their ability to compete for conference and district titles yet again.
“I believe a lot is just getting through those first few games,” said Powell. “We have a lot of players that don’t have a ton of experience at the varsity level, but their job is not changing from last year to this year. They will have more opportunities and I think they are looking forward to that.
“There is no doubt our expectation is to put ourselves in a position to compete and win in the conference and the district. I think this group is very self-aware and believes we are capable of doing that, but it will not be easy. We have a lot of areas we need to improve and look forward to it and competing this season.”
Lamar will open the 2019-20 season on Dec. 5 at the Dennis Cornish Classic.