By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Lockwood Tigers enter the 2019-2020 season with their third new coach in three years, but coach Ethan Baker is excited to lay a new foundation in his first season with the program.
“The team had a good summer together and I was able to get to know the kids, as well as how they play,” said Baker, who enters his fourth year as a head coach, most recently at East Newton. “We are still trying to figure out strategically the best way for us to play with the personnel we have.”
“Last season’s team went through a journey. They struggled throughout the year, but going through a tough conference schedule prepared them well for district play.”
The Tigers finished 9-19 overall and 2-5 in the Southwest Conference and made it to the Class 1 District 5 championship before falling to Golden City 78-73.
Losses to graduation include: Paxton Masterson, who averaged 10.6 points per game last year. “He was a very physical presence on the floor, and guarded the opponents’ best player,” Baker said. Other players lost from last season are Roy Snider and Gage Dubs.
Lockwood returns a junior-heavy roster led by Max Schnelle, a 6-foot-3 junior, who was a first-team all-district selection and honorable mention all-conference. Schnelle averaged 11 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2.3 steals per game last year.
“As our returning leading scorer, I look at Max to be a leader for us on and off the court,” Baker said. “Physically, he has grown and worked in the weight room enough that I believe his size and skill-set can make him a very dynamic player in our conference.”
Other returning players include:
• Zain Masterson, 6-0 sophomore. “Zain got a decent amount of playing time as a freshman and we are hopeful that that experience, coupled with physically becoming more mature, will allow him to take hold of a varsity role,” Baker said.
• Damien Jordan, 5-7 senior, averaged 4.4 PPG and 1.2 RPG. “Damien is a very good athlete who I believe will do whatever I ask of him for the team. We are looking at him to provide tough, hard-nosed defense often against the other team’s best guard.”
• Blaine Garver, 5-10 junior, averaged 5.4 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.2 APG. “Blaine came on strong toward the latter part of the season. As a team, we need Blaine to continue that progression this year for us to reach our potential. He has the ability to become a consistent offensive threat for us.”
• Spencer Neal, 6-3 junior, averaged 5 PPG, 4.8 RPG. “Spencer was in and out of the lineup last year. We will need him to continue being a strong, physical presence for us defensively and rebounding-wise, but we are also trying to find ways to get him more involved on the offensive end.”
• Brayden Hamilton, 6-5 junior. “Brayden had limited playing time as a sophomore, but this year, we are looking for him to make a big jump and become a force at the varsity level.”
• Dusty Timmons, 6-0 sophomore. “Got some playing time as a freshman. Good shooter. Needs to physically mature and to get more playing experience.”
• Gaege Queen, 6-2 senior. “Was injured most of last season, but I can see him making an impact on the varsity level this year, given his size and athleticism.”
• Clayton Robertson, 5-10 sophomore. “Played some varsity as a freshman. Hard-nosed kid.”
“Our biggest team strength heading into the season is our size and strength,” Baker said. “At the Class 1 level, having four athletes that are 6-2 or taller, with most having bigger athletic builds, it can be a real difference-maker. Two-thirds of our team is coming out of football season and will be bringing in a physical mentality.
“We have a decent amount of size for a small-class school and will look to take advantage of that where we can. At this point, I can say that we will probably slow the pace down a bit from last year and focus on ball control and smart shot selection.”
Baker has a couple of newcomers who could see some varsity action this season.
Elijah Kerr is a 5-7 freshman, who will have an opportunity to compete for varsity time as a rotation guard, and Reese Fyfe, a 5-10 junior, will be able to provide spot minutes in the post.
“Some of the challenges we are facing simply involve familiarity,” said Baker, who has learned from a couple of Ozarks coaching legends in Tony Armstrong and Rod Gorman, while serving as an assistant. “This summer, I was able to get to know most of our kids, but between losing some talent to transfer and some kids having summer plans and not being able to attend, the group I had this summer won’t be exactly who I am working with this winter.
“With the kids coming out of football season, we will have a condensed amount of time to get everything covered that needs to be covered prior to our first games. Past that, as with most teams, injuries could affect us in a big way. We don’t have a tremendous amount of depth with most of our reserves being on the younger end. Staying healthy is key.”
The Tigers will participate in a jamboree at Stockton with El Dorado Springs and Liberal on Nov. 19, before hosting Dadeville in their season opener on Nov. 22.
Baker thinks the Tigers will be a more mature team this season.
“Our group is very competitive, and I believe that we could exceed some of the expectations that others have about us,” Baker said. “With that said, talk is cheap, and we just need to work hard and let our play speak for itself.”