HED:Hooping it up in T-town
By D.E. Wheeler
So is the Tupelo Golden Wave's game plan from the last two basketball seasons worth following again in 1998-99?
Not losing to another school in the Daily Journal circulation area or achieving a combined record of 60-5 would indicate that head coach Lee Stratton has hit on a formula for success. And after only losing one senior starter, Stratton has the Wave pointed towards another successful campaign.
"It's been a great, very successful two seasons," Stratton said. "They're just good basketball players and fine young men.
"These guys are very talented in their skills and their heart, but we probably have less talent than other teams we'll play. But we'll just work harder to overcome that."
The hard work of seven seniors during the 1996-97 season resulted in a 28-0 regular season mark. This season fines Stratton with a similar situation, five experienced, hard working seniors who could lead the Wave to another lofty record.
Dennis Buse, Carlyn Sherer, Ramon Gary, John Armstrong and Jaris Stubbs are the five experienced seniors, with Buse, Sherer and Gary having played significant minutes on the 28-0 season as sophomores.
"It's been fun, but it's been disappointing too," said the 6-foot, 4-inch Sherer, who has been playing at the varsity level for the Wave since he was a freshman. "Good records don't mean anything in the end."
Two loses - each to Clinton, and each in the first round of the Class 5A north half playoffs - have kept Sherer, Stratton, and the rest of the Wave from totally enjoying a 60-5 record. But disappointment from not advancing past the north half has translated into more focus for the Wave for the upcoming season.
"We have to keep our focus throughout the entire season," Stratton said. "We still have the same goals from other seasons we'd like to reach.
"We're optimistic, but cautious about it."
"We've got a bunch of seniors, and we've learned who to give the ball to in big situations," said the 6-0 Buse. "I don't look at records now, I just look at how far we can get.
"We can be state champions if we play together."
Buse and the 5-9 Gary seem very adept at playing together, with the back court tandem perhaps being the strength of the Wave starting five.
"I'll put them up there as one of the best back courts in the state," Stratton said. "Ramon had a great summer while Denny Ray is playing great right now.
"They're real intelligent and are strong leaders."
Being a smallish 5A team, the outside game is always important for the Wave, and the 6-0 Armstrong, along with 6-2 senior Tyler Bennett and 6-2 junior Chris Hallmark will help provide more depth. Stratton says that Armstrong will play more outside than he is use to, with Bennett and Hallmark were two of the top substitutes last season.
"We're more or less playing with guards and forwards, and pretty much all of them are three point threats," Stratton said. "At least they think they are."
That means that the people Stratton stations in the paint could step out and take a 3-pointer at anytime, which includes starting forwards Sherer and 6-4 Stubbs. The depth behind those two is still questionable right now, though Stratton says that three of four are trying to earn playing time.
And what games could earn a fare share of Stratton's attention on the schedule.?
"Starkville is always strong, and the county teams should be strong again," Stratton said. "We go to Starkville early in the season probably without Ramon.
"And we did find a Jackson-area team to schedule because the guys do want to be challenged."
That Jackson-area team is Madison Central, which is the last date of the regular season on Feb. 13. The Wave travel to class 5A rival Starkville on Nov. 24 and host the Yellowjackets Feb. 9
Tupelo opens its season Nov. 10 at Olive Branch, then has its home opener Nov. 12 against Lafayette County.