The Sherman boys basketball program underwent almost a complete transformation last season. Going in a different direction with a new coach and the need to replace the entire starting lineup — and almost the whole roster as only three players returned — the Bearcats took their lumps and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in three years.
But now with a year of experience, both at the varsity level and with the coaching staff, the Bearcats look to take the step in the right direction as Sherman opens the season at McKinney Boyd at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
“The kids are buying into the culture change. They want to find a way to be more, to do more,” head coach Jordan Marks said. “It’s given them a hunger to not repeat that this year.”
The baseline under Marks was a 9-22 season that got off to a decent start — Sherman was sitting at 8-10 in the middle of December before winning just once the rest of the way, the first district meeting against Denison.
“We ran into some walls, some areas where we got frustrated as a team and didn’t close. We were competitive but didn’t know how to close,” Marks said. “There were too many games we went on two, three, four minute stretches without scoring. I think there’s seven games we shot under 65 percent on free throws. That percentage cost us the game — five-point game, seven-point game.”
While the Bearcats finished last in the 10-5A standings, they went into the final two weeks of the season in the mix for a playoff spot due to that victory over their rival. Taking the final steps to be better over the final six weeks of the season is a big focus.
There are some holes to fill after the graduation of D.J. Hester, Elijah Dick, Tazorrian Smith and Colton West while Tyler Fulton transferred to Pottsboro for his senior season.
“I’m very liberal when it comes to starters, minutes because it depends on match-ups and who we play,” Marks said. “The chemistry with the 10 guys we’ve had in off-season has been great and adding the football guys this past week…those four are working hard to catch up.”
Senior Mason Gabriel leads the returning Bearcats after the point guard shared the district Newcomer of the Year accolades.
“When I talked with the coaches in the district, they all said stopping him was the game plan,” Marks said. “We’ve got some guys that can space the floor and having that space will allow him to be even better. Now they have to choose how to guard him.”
Classmates Gage Smith, Xzavier Roberson and Dadrien Calhoun-Moore are the other seniors with varsity experience and Smith is a three-year letterman.
Juniors Braiden Speed and Jalarien Wilson are also back and in the mix for major minutes while sophomore Ashton Alexander spent half his freshman year on the varsity.
The newcomers to the roster are seniors Tre Boyd and Eliyzia Dantzler, juniors Jacoby Hunt, Benji Omayebu and Dionte Agnew and sophomores Elijah Chapman and Kasai Burton.
“One of the biggest growths this off-season was Dionte Agnew,” Marks said. “I think our guys pride themselves on the ability to guard one-on-one. He’s one of our better guys at doing that.”
Burton transferred from Tishomingo (Okla.) and was an honorable mention all-state selection after averaging 17.5 points per game and will be another option in the backcourt.
“Especially to bring back Mason and Xzavier at the one and adding Kasai, they can get us into what we want to run pretty smoothly,” Marks said. “We’re more athletic bigs than post players, so we have to play fast.”
Besides non-district games against Krum, Denton, L.D. Bell, Burkburnett, Flower Mound, Melissa, Sulphur Springs and Aledo as well as hosting an Australian team, NPIRE Travel Group, on Dec. 30, Sherman will compete in the Mansfield Spring Creek Tournament, the Cedar Park Tournament and the Anna-Melissa-Van Alstyne Highway 5 Classic.
“Trying to find match-ups similar to our district so we can be prepared,” Marks said. “Being able to give us some competition to see where we stack up and get ready to make a playoff run.”
The Bearcats will open 10-5A action by hosting Lovejoy on Jan. 17 and attempt to reach the playoffs after the one-year absence. The four teams that made it last season were defending district champ McKinney North, Lovejoy, Princeton and Denison.