As the Denison Yellow Jackets look to end their playoff drought, they have turned to a new head coach and a mix of returning starters and fresh faces. They have tried to emphasize what they do in the gym every practice in order to get closer to that goal.
There’s a reason Denison has had some lengthy gaps in between games and tournaments. Focusing on the details and the little things once the action really heats up is a big part of the building process.
Seeing if the lessons have paid off will begin as Denison (5-13) opens District 10-5A play at Princeton tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s a great group of kids. We’ve got to put together four good quarters,” Denison head coach Dale Rhodes said.
There was no greater gap than in the lead-up to this first district contest. The Yellow Jackets haven’t played since Dec. 29 at the Caprock Tournament, going nearly two full weeks without facing an opponent.
“We played four games in three-days and had a six-hour bus ride. Let’s rest up from that trip and really break down what we need to do better,” Rhodes said. “Some things need to be broken down — a lot of film study.”
It is a calculated risk for a program which hasn’t made the postseason since the 2010-11 campaign and last earned a playoff win in 2010.
While there have been some pockets of success for the Jackets, they have not seen consistent production. They started the season 2-2 but have yet to win back-to-back games and had a losing record in all three of their tournament appearances. Four of the losses have been by 10 points or fewer.
“It’s not as bad as it looks on paper. We’ve been in a lot of games. We’ve got to learn how to finish,” Rhodes said. “We’re putting it together. Good things are going to happen.”
Three of the returning Jackets are part of the starting lineup — juniors Tarrence Gaines, Nate Uber and Zaelin Wimbish are joined by classmate Christian Smallwood and senior Cade Gordy.”
“They are a good blend of energy, of unselfishness,” Rhodes said. “This is what I think works well for us. I know who my five are and I know who my next three or four are.
Providing production off the bench have been seniors Pierce Barker and Rustin Workman and sophomore Keleon Vaughn.
“They can all come in and play big minutes,” Rhodes said. “If someone’s got the hot hand, they’re going to play.”
In the latest realignment, the Jackets were placed with Sherman, Lovejoy, McKinney North, Princeton and Wylie East. Sherman, Lovejoy, McKinney North and Princeton — which was in Class 4A — were playoff teams last year.
“Our district’s pretty good. District is going to be fun,” Rhodes said. “I don’t see one team that’s clearly separated from everyone. Our goal is to compete. We want to show that we’re competitive.”