By Jim Connell (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One year after a magical run ended with a runner-up finish in the Class 2 state tournament, the Crane High School boys’ basketball team has a new coach and some new faces in place.
The goal is the same, though: a return to the state tournament.
“They feel like they can compete with anybody,” first-year coach Kevin Smith said. “Those types of things are intangibles that you can’t teach.”
The Pirates will have to find a way to replace Dalton Hayes, a first team selection on the All-Southwest Central League, all-district and all-state teams. Hayes scored 23 points in Crane’s 70-63 loss to Oran in the title game.
The other starter lost to graduation was Deven White, a second team all-SWCL pick who was a steadying force on the interior.
Smith coached the last 13 seasons at West Plains, and he replaces Craig Campbell, who is in his first season at Camdenton.
Smith will have three starters and six letterwinners back. That group is led by Colton Elder, a 6-foot senior who has the ability to make an impact on the interior or on the perimeter. Elder averaged 10.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Wyatt Vaught, a 6-foot-1 senior, is a strong outside shooter who averaged 9.0 points per game, and 5-foot-7 sophomore Tyler Campbell played in 31 games as a freshman, averaging 7.6 points per game. Campbell is a quick player who is a strong defender and outside shooting threat.
The other letterwinners back are 6-foot junior Bryston Branstetter, a strong inside player who has the ability to step out and score from 3-point range, 6-foot-1 senior Braydon Cook, who averaged 8.7 points per game last season, and 6-foot senior Brent Williams, an athletic guard who is a scoring threat from long range as well as driving to the basket.
The returning letterwinners all are 6-foot-1 or shorter, leading Smith to see the team’s backcourt play as a strength going into the season.
“I really like our guard play,” Smith said. “I think we’ll have some good guards who can shoot it and get around you. They all have very nice ballhandling abilities.”
The group of newcomers is led by 6-foot-8 junior Wyatt Cloyd and 6-foot-5 sophomore Jacob Woodward, a pair of frontcourt players who have the potential to make for matchup problems for SWCL opponents.
Colby Killman is a 6-foot-1 junior who has a high motor and is a tenacious rebounder, and freshmen Brecken Vaught (5-foot-6) and Isaiah Smith (5-foot-6) each should see playing time.
With many of his players suiting up for the Pirates in the fall baseball season, Smith has been working since the opening of preseason practice to get everyone on the same page.
“I think it’s a big change when you have a new coach and he brings a new style and his own personality to it,” he said. “It always seems like there’s a period of learning that they have to go through to figure it out and get used to the coach.”
Crane was the regular season runner-up in the SWCL last season, with a 6-1 record. The league appears to be loaded again, with Clever, Blue Eye and Forsyth among the strong teams joining the Pirates as conference powers.
“I think we’ll have a chance to compete in the conference,” Smith said. “I know there are some very good schools and very good coaches, but I just hope we can compete in the conference and make a run.”