What may be lacking in senior numbers will be made up by the vibrant, young core of the 2019-2020 Sealy Tiger basketball squad under head coach Ray Dabney.
After graduating eight top-of-the-line athletes from last year’s team, the coach will have plenty of slots to fill with new players after the few returning ones but no tutorial on the best way to assemble them.
“Basketball is a funny sport because it’s all about the chemistry and putting the puzzle pieces together, but they don’t come with directions,” Dabney said. “We’ve got to figure out who’s going to be the leader, what kind of group will they be; is it a press group, will they run the half-court offense, will they speed up the pace or slow it down?”
All of those questions won’t have a lot of time to be answered with Dabney looking to schedule games just days after the football season came to a close at the end of last week.
“Not going to have a lot of time to put it together, if football is over this week, we’ll start looking for games next week but hopefully we get started the way we left off last year,” he said.
The final note of last year wasn’t exactly what Dabney had envisioned – Wharton stealing a tiebreaker game for the fourth and final playoff spot with a tip-in bucket at the buzzer – but the push in the home stretch of the district slate took the team from outside the playoff picture to fighting for the fourth seed.
“This group has a lot of potential just as they did last year and of course it never should have come down to a tip-in at the buzzer of a play-in game,” the head coach said. “Even though we graduated a lot of seniors, we’ve got a vibrant, young core that’s willing to learn, they’re fast, they’ve got some shooters but the one thing we don’t have is a solid post presence so hopefully with our length, size and quickness, we can mix some things up. They want to learn, they want to get better and they really want to get to the playoffs, they’re hungry.”
Although only two of his returners can technically be considered “returning starters,” a whole host of Tigers logged meaningful minutes last year and will look to carry this year’s version of Sealy basketball.
“We’ll have at least two returning starters, Reece Novicke (although he’ll be out for a few weeks after getting 12 stitches in his knee following the West Columbia football game) and Noe Navarro who played a lot of big minutes for us, big-time three-point shooter and hopefully he can start where he left off last year,” said Dabney. “Ja’Marris Cotton wasn’t necessarily a starter, but he played some big minutes for us. Dai’Kwan Brown will be back to potentially play some big minutes for us. Jacob Gajewski, a couple of Eschenburgs, and a freshman point guard who could be eyeing a spot.”
In the end, Dabney could use a large combination of all the pieces to extend over such a long season with four fragments coming together to create one big schedule.
“It’s a long season because you’ve got the preseason, tournament season, district season and then the postseason hopefully,” the coach said. “You’ve got to reset and gear up for each season individually so hopefully we can start out hot and pick up some wins early and ride that momentum.”
At press time, the beginning of the season is set for Nov. 18 in Caldwell against the Hornets with the home opener slated for Nov. 26 against the La Grange Leopards.