The split nature of the schedule provided a conundrum for the Denison Yellow Jackets boys basketball team last season.
As they entered the year, there was a feeling that they could improve across the board and try to build back up from the bottom of the standings as they finished without a district victory.
Denison was able to show that it was better against district opponents but took a step back in its overall record, which led to a puzzling end and the need to regroup going forward.
Trying to take the next step with some fresh faces begins as Denison opens the season by hosting Frisco Independence tonight at 7:30 p.m.
It will be a different approach by the Jackets, who have just five returning varsity players on the 14-man roster.
“We're going to turbocharge it this year. It's going to go up in a hurry and since threes are worth more than twos, we think that can benefit us. I don't think we can play conventional basketball in this district where teams' point guards are bigger than our posts,” Denison head coach Chet Byerly said. “Hopefully we'll make our share of those. Controlled chaos is what we're looking for. I was pleased with our two scrimmages.”
The Yellow Jackets went 7-23 last season and 2-10 in the 5-5A standings, which was good enough to tie for fifth place with Wichita Falls and Denton Braswell. But there was a wide divide between the playoff qualifiers and those who didn't — the fifth-place trio was six games behind what was needed to reach the postseason.
“Those top four teams are going to be pretty tough. We know we have to close the gap,” Byerly said. “With a good, hard summer and guys showing improvement, we think we can fight for a spot.”
For Denison, the goal might be a more modest one in trying to get to double-digit victories for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
While there are some starting jobs and roles off the bench open, leading the team is senior wing Mykell Anderson, who was named first-team all-district last season.
“He's been our leading scorer and going to have to carry the load for us,” Byerly said.
Also back is sophomore guard Tarrence Gaines, who was picked honorable mention all-district as he picked up more minutes as the year went along.
“He's going to be very good for us, this year and the years ahead,” Byerly said.
The team does need to replace second-team all-district selections Boston Byerly and Noah Burden and honorable mention pick D'Aundre Barker.
Senior HD Speed is back as well as juniors Pierce Barker and Rustin Workman, who is the closest thing to a center on the roster.
“It allows us to put another shooter on the court,” Byerly said. “We're going to have to keep the pace going with our offense. We have some guys who have a pretty decent shot.”
Senior Dontre Flowers is with the first group at point guard with classmate Kahlin Hall backing him up.
“He's running things for us a majority of the time,” Byerly said.
Freshman guard Hagen Byerly is out with a foot injury that is expected to sideline him until January at the earliest. Rounding out the roster are seniors Devonte Fulce, Jaylyn Robbins and Zayden Guthrie, junior Jacob Monroe and sophomore Nate Uber.
Near the end of the 2016-17 season the roster looked extremely young and depth was an issue and at times played like it but the experience gained should help the Jackets going forward.
In addition to non-district games against Frisco Reedy, Anna, Sulphur Springs, Melissa and Princeton, the Jackets will compete in the Sanger, Anna-Melissa and Caprock Tournaments.
District play starts on December 19th and the District 5-5A teams remain the same from last season when Denton Ryan and Denton shared the district title and Wichita Falls Rider and Sherman tied for third.