Smithville coach DJ Burress’s plans over the summer were simply to see if his returning players could step up and play to their ability.
To his surprise, the core group exceeded his expectations, and now he is excited for what the future has in store for this year’s Smithville Seminoles basketball team.
“I was actually pleased with how we performed because I really wanted to see if these six or seven returning guys could step up and play to their ability,” Burress. “Last year, the whole team was young, so I wanted to see if they were able to get better and improved based off of last year’s experience. I can honestly say that they did, and I’m excited for this upcoming season.”
The Noles have a lot of playing experience returning with Braylin Hill, Clay Tacker, Barker O’Brian, Brayden Rowland and Lane O’Brian. Burress believes that their experience will result in a bounceback season for Smithville.
“I’m really encouraged because they’re starting to figure out that they have a good chance to do something if they play hard,” he said. “The main problem last year was just inexperience, so I think all the struggles and losses that we faced are going to prepare them for a better season.”
The Noles have a big hole to fill in at the post position after graduating Chandler Woodham, but Burress sees Rowland as the guy that will step into that role perfectly.
“We’re definitely going to need Brayden (Rowland) to step up because we need him to fill Chandler Woodham’s role as a post player,” he said. “We played a lot of big teams over the summer like Saltillo and Corinth, and we didn’t win those games but the fact that we were competitive against teams of that caliber shows some growth.”
With the emergence of the Noles’ core five, Burress believes that any one of the five can lead the team to victory.
“I’m not sure that I’ll have just one person take over, but it all just depends on matchups,” he said. “Everybody stepped up and led when they need to because we had games when Braylin (Hill) was the leading scorer, then games when Barker, Brayden, Clay or Lane was. Honestly, I like that because I don’t want to have to depend on one person to lead every game, so I think it’s going to be a team effort this year.”
Burress knows that having an experienced core will be beneficial for this upcoming season, and he plans to work on developing other younger players around them.
“Having these core guys back is definitely going to be big because inexperience was the reason that we fell off last year, and we only had one player on the team that had playing experience,” he said. “When you bring back six or seven guys that aren’t scared of the moment, you can’t help but improve. I was able to see that I’m not going to have to worry about those guys that are returning, and my job now is to develop some bench players to come in and help them. That’s going to be my biggest challenge because most of my bench guys are freshmen.”
Last year, the Noles were unable to play a jamboree game due to limited players on the roster, but Burress is looking forward to playing one this year.
“I’m looking forward to playing our jamboree game because we didn’t have enough people to play one last year,” he said. “I only had two kids in the gym the entire football season, but I’m going to have at least eight or nine guys in the gym with me every single day this year. That’s going to help us start off a little bit better than we did last year.”