Lamar boys basketball coach Zach Burks watched his team struggle in the early going last season, but the Vikings managed to hold their own in a deep and talented 3-5A to earn the district’s fourth playoff spot.
Even though Lamar’s off to a stronger start this time around, Burks is well aware of the difficult path that lies ahead for his team. The Vikings, which opened this season 5-2, hosted defending district champion North Crowley on Tuesday in the 3-5A opener for both teams.
“The district is always tough,” Burks said. “There’s not an easy game anywhere. [Teams are] going to be physical. You’ve got to play defense, got to rebound.”
Lamar’s not the only team with aspirations for winning the district title. Martin, which finished second in 3-5A last season with a 28-7 record, is led by many of the key players who helped the Warriors advance to the third round of the playoffs. They include senior Josh Swearingin, the district’s reigning defensive player of the year, and Nick Babb, who is committed to the University of Arkansas.
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“We’ve got a good core group, and then we’ve got quite a few underclassmen, sophomore kids that are on the varsity,” Martin coach Jeff Plemons said.
One is sophomore Bronson Boyd, who has been key producer on offense with last year’s district sophomore of the year Andrew Dotson fighting through a hand injury.
“Bronson, he’s doing really well and creating some offense for us,” said Babb, who was first team all-district a season ago. “We’re doing really well at replacing that. As coach says, ‘Next up, next in.’ You’ve got to play your role and get W’s.”
There’s not just one ultracompetitive district in town. Seguin is the defending 15-4A champion and a berth in the 4A Region II final. But that kind of season has proven to be a tough act to follow. The Cougars started this season 1-4. Lucky for Seguin, the “real” season started Tuesday with the Cougars’ district opener at Ennis.
All about defense
To keep up with the other contenders in the district, the Warriors will have to play stronger defense, Babb said.
“We need to pick up our defense a lot. We’ve been struggling on that. We need to get all together on one page.”
The Warriors, who have a strong post combo with John Brown University commit Patrick Burke and football star Myles Garrett, opened district play Tuesday against an Arlington team that Babb describes as improving and dangerous.
“You can’t take any team lightly,” Babb said. “Every team has a chance.”
Bowie certainly has a chance. The Volunteers finished third in the district last season but got all the way to the third round of the playoffs. The team returns 2012-13 district newcomer of the year Kevin Hervey. The senior forward is committed to UT Arlington.
He’s joined by perhaps this year’s top newcomer, post Dante Hales. Hales, a 6-foot-10 move-in from Dallas Woodrow Wilson, is averaging nearly 11 points and more than seven rebounds per game.
“I think it’s probably one of the most balanced districts that it’s been in a while,” Plemons said. “There’s a number of good teams in our district: North Crowley, obviously. Lamar is really good and Bowie. I think Arlington’s a lot better. I think every team in our district is better this year.”
Even though the district’s tough from top to bottom, the formula for winning in basketball isn’t complicated, Burks said: “Play defense and rebound and take care of the basketball. I tell the guys that all the time.”