By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Few coaches in the Ozarks have been able to turnaround a program the way Shaun Gray has in the last half decade at Nevada.
From 2009 to 2014, the Tigers managed just one winning season. Gray has guided the program to above .500 campaigns in each of the last four seasons with consecutive totals of 14, 23, 21 and 18.
Now in his sixth season at Nevada, he returns one of his most experienced and dynamic groups with three full-time starters and a pair of part-time starts making up seven total letterwinners from last season.
Leading the Tigers this year will be 6-foot-6 senior Dalton Gayman and 6-foot-1 junior point guard Logan Applegate. Gayman averaged 13 points and 8.4 rebounds, earning All-Big 8 honors, and is committed to play his college basketball at Arkansas-Fort Smith. Applegate added 14.2 points, 4.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds as a sophomore, also earning an All-Big 8 spot.
Gayman and Applegate could be the area’s top duo this winter.
“Dalton will be one of the best forwards in the area, he can score at every level and he is also a great defender,” said Gray. “I look for him to have a great season with the pressure of being our only true big man. He has been in the gym five or six days a week and really wants to go out on a high note.
“Logan is a tireless worker, in the gym five or six days a week. His feel and vision for the game make everything come easy to him. He is the most unselfish guard I have ever seen, but also has a killer instinct when he needs it.”
The supporting cast around them is a great compliment to their game.
Lane and Logan McNeley, a pair of 6-foot-1 twin guards, both shot well above 40 percent from 3-point land as sophomores. Lane, a 43 percent 3-point shooter, averaged 6.2 points. Logan, a 48 percent 3-point shooter, averaged 5.8 points.
They also combined to have a 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio, demonstrating their basketball IQ.
“Logan and Lane are two of the most underrated players in the area,” said Gray. “They have both worked hard in the off season to be able to not only shoot but to also be able to score at the basket. They can guard every position on the floor and both shoot over 40% from 3. We should be very hard to guard this year.”
Senior Noah Cheaney will provide depth on the perimeter . Cheaney shot 40 percent from 3 last season.
Some newcomers for the team are Trey Moore (5’10 junior), Evan Rea (5’9 junior), Owen Swearingen (5’11 sophomore), Case Sanderson (5’11 freshman) and Eli Cheaney (5’11 sophomore).
Nevada won the Big 8 Western Division title last year, before losing to Rogersville in the Big 8 Crossover game. The Wildcats ended up being a Final Four team in Class 4, meaning it’s a group the Tigers could again see in their quest for conference and state championships.
Gray is okay with that, as he knows the brutality of Big 8 play will only make his team more prepared to make a playoff run come March.
“The Big 8 has so much physicality and coaches who put in a lot of scout prep make our conference very challenging,” said Gray. “Those teams being more familiar with us this year will also make things tougher.
“If we continue to play “together” and give everything we have to one another then we can win both the conference and the district this year. Foul trouble will have to be avoided and we will have to be in good shape to avoid fatigue.”
Nevada will open the 2019-20 season on Dec. 6 against Mount Vernon.