At times demonstrating their potential, Temple and Belton labored through growing pains and tough stretches last season while guided by coaches in their first campaigns with the programs. Those experiences could cultivate upside for the local Class 6A squads this winter as each welcomes back plenty of players a year stronger in more ways than one.
“Everybody is more familiar with the system. That includes the coaches and kids. It was something new for people, the certain style of basketball we’re trying to get to,” Wildcats second-year coach Michael Thomas said. “They’ve done a great job this offseason just picking up terminology and learning different drills and stuff we use to get better.”
Temple went 10-22 overall and 4-12 in District 12-6A last season, often hampered by injuries to key starters during its return to the state’s highest classification while reacquainting itself with league foes such as Hewitt Midway, Killeen Ellison, Killeen Shoemaker and so on.
The Wildcats, who open the 2019-20 slate at 7:30 tonight on the road against Austin Eastside Memorial, won last year’s finale for a boost into the offseason, a period of time that Thomas used as another stepping stone toward his vision of what he’d like the program to be as Year 2 moves forward and beyond.
“I preach to the kids about consistency, just about getting better every single day, and also about not putting pressure on themselves. We need to get better every day and grow mentally. That’s what I want out of this program, for us to grow mentally. Once we grow mentally, now we can take steps as far as winning lots of games, winning district titles, regionals, whatever,” Thomas said.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work since the season ended last year. We have a lot of room for improvement and a lot we have to clean up for us to get to that standard that I’m trying to set.”
Five of Temple’s returning players — J’Don Garcia (5-foot-7, senior), Jaiden Pate (6-0, senior), Trevion Wells (6-1, junior), Leon Hudson (6-6, junior) and Elcid Smith (5-10, senior) — will be in action tonight. The three others — Roman Jackson (6-0, senior), Quentin Johnston (6-5, senior) and Markel Carter (6-2, senior) — will enter the mix when the Wildcats’ football season comes to an end.
Joining the aforementioned are Rico Troup (5-10, junior), Aundra Jackson (6-0, junior), Joseph Stewart (6-2, junior), Carlos Torres (5-10, senior) and Kedrick Freeman (6-1, senior).
Temple’s home opener is 7 p.m. Tuesday against College Station A&M Consolidated. It begins 12-6A on Dec. 17 versus Belton, which also will look to rebound from a 4-12 league showing a year ago when it started, in some games, up to four underclassmen.
“We are still pretty young,” Fossett said of this season’s bunch.
The difference this time around is that the youth has been tested and has a better feel for how to deal with the ups and downs a season will undoubtedly present. Fossett said he’s sensed a more confident group because of those factors.
Belton debuts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bastrop before an afternoon encounter at Tiger Gym versus Burnet on Nov. 25.
“I think beside being better basketball players, they feel more like they belong,” said Fossett, whose team brings back nine players with varsity minutes to their credit. “We feel like this season we can compete whereas last year we were more hoping to just hang around in games.”
The Tigers already were dealt a bit of misfortune when all-district performer Kayden Downs suffered a season-ending injury. Fossett said Downs, a 5-10 junior guard, will be missed but that his absence opens up opportunity for others to step in.
After a season that earned him 12-6A’s newcomer of the year award, 6-4 forward TJ Johnson is back for his sophomore year.
“TJ Johnson, he’s going to be our leader,” Fossett said, then added that he foresees Tyson Pine (6-4, senior), Ben Jones (5-11, junior) and Josh Rardin (6-0, senior) providing enhanced contributions. “I think we are excited to get the season started. We know what to expect and know more of what we have compared to last year.”
Also back for Belton are juniors Luke Bramlett and Ruben Jimenez, and seniors Mikal Kerley and Diego Nieves. Rounding out the Tigers’ roster are seniors D’emante Smith, Austin Aggers and Justin Brown, and sophomores Seth Morgan and Trent West.
Jimenez, Smith, Bramlett, Morgan and West all started for Belton’s football team this season.