Coach: Keith Tanner, second year
Assistant coach: Josh Bjorgum
2011-12 record: 1-20
Returning starters: Konner Johnston (6-foot-0 senior point guard, 20 points per game); Joey Vaughn (6-2 junior forward); Landry Harris; and Cole Duvall.
Best inside players: Tanner said Vaughn would be the key to the Red Devils’ inside game. He has improved his ability to score from the paint by “leaps and bounds by being dedicated,” the coach said, adding that Vaughn is a hard-nosed competitor “with the best attitude I have ever coached.” Harris can play any position and is coming into his own in understanding his role and how he is most effective in contributing to the team. Tanner called him “a feisty competitor with a great work ethic who is always willing to go the extra mile.” Duvall, another forward, is still a little new to the game, Tanner said, but is learning “at an incredible pace and has great potential — great hands with a soft touch around the basket and can really stretch the floor for us with his long-distance shooting.”
Best outside players: Tanner said Johnston is the team leader. “He has been extremely dedicated and committed to this team and our goal, as well as his personal ambitions, this summer and offseason,” he said. “He is the point guard as well as the best scorer. He is the floor general and makes us go.” The coach said he also expects big things out of Kaleb Tunnel, a senior shooting guard with a great outside touch, as well as sophomore Alex Spradlin.
How will you match/exceed/fall short of your finish last year? Tanner said that after a good summer of work, he expects much improvement. “We had a lot of commitment and got better as a team,” he said.
Team strengths: Team play. “The team has come together and realized that they have to have the same common goal in order to be our best,” Tanner said. “We have very unselfish guys who are coachable and willing to do the extra little things to be our best and playing within ourselves.”
Team weaknesses: Although the Red Devils lack size, Tanner said, they made up for it with heart.
Games to watch: Lamar in the conference opener on Dec. 11. “It should be interesting how we match up,” Tanner said.
Toughest opponents: Charleston and Paris. Charleston finished runner-up in the Class 3A Region 1 tournament last year, and Paris finished third. Paris then fell to Earle in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament; Charleston reached the state final, falling to Earle in the championship.
College prospects: Tanner said Johnston hopes to get the opportunity to continue his career at a small college. “He will work hard in order to achieve his goal,” the coach said of the senior.
In a nutshell: Tanner said his roster is made up of “extremely outstanding young men, in school as well as out, guys that I can trust and count on, which is an attribute that has been left out and not held at the highest standard by a lot of young people this day and age, I fear. These young men love the game and would do anything I ask of them. They continue to improve every day and are fun to coach. They will be competitive this season and surprise a lot of people.”
ATKINS LADY RED DEVILS
Coach: Craig Pinion, second year with the Atkins girls after 10 with the Atkins boys
Assistant coach: Jessica Wygal
2011-12 record: 8-19, 2-10 in conference, fifth in conference
Returning starters: Marisa Rodgers (5-foot-8 senior, 8 points per game); Mary Thompson (5-9 senior, 6.3 ppg); and Emily Ward (5-7 junior point guard, 6.5 ppg).
Best inside players: Thompson, Brittanie Handley (5-7 senior) and Bryanna Martin (5-7 sophomore). “Mary made tremendous improvement during the summer season,” Pinion said. “She has become more of a scoring threat and is capable of stepping out and hitting the 3. She will draw the opponent’s best inside threat and will be counted on to be one of our stronger rebounders.” He said Handley and Martin will provide much-needed depth at the post position. “They are both very strong, and we will need their toughness in the paint,” he said.
Best outside players: Rodgers, Ward, Erica Ford (5-6 senior) and Jagger Hendrix (5-7 senior). Pinion said the Lady Devils are expecting big things from Rodgers this season. “She is one of our best shooters and is capable of being one of our better scorers when she is playing with confidence,” he said. “She is in better shape and quicker than she has been in the past.” Ward has a year of experience at point guard, and Pinion said that experience will help make Atkins better. He said Ford is one of his quickest players, the best perimeter defender and has the ability to get to the rim offensively. Hendrix is a “true competitor. She will do the things necessary to help our team reach its potential,” he said. “Her shot has improved tremendously.”
How will you match/exceed/fall short of your finish last year? The Lady Red Devils won just one game two years ago, before Pinion made the switch from boys, and just six the previous season. This year, they look to make the postseason. “We expect to compete for a trip to the regional tournament,” Pinion said. “We came up one game short last year. We hope with the district tournament being held on our home court we will have enough heart and competitiveness to do the things necessary to be playing our best at the end of the season.”
Team strength: Guard play.
Team weakness: Lack of size.
Games to watch: The Lady Red Devils will start conference play at Lamar, Charleston and at home against Paris. “Those will most likely be the class of the conference, and we will find out quickly how much improvement we have made,” Pinion said. He will also face his sister for the first time when Atkins travels to Morrilton (coached by Carin Pinion McNabb) on Nov. 20.
Toughest opponent: Charleston “hasn’t lost a conference game in five or more years,” Pinion said. “Lamar — tradition, tradition, tradition.”
In a nutshell: Pinion said his team must learn to play at a consistently high level. “Our conference is very tough, top to bottom, and we can’t afford to play on emotion,” he said. “We must learn to play each possession with the same intensity and focus if we are going to be playing in late February. I think we are capable of doing these things, and each day we will focus on stressing what needs to be done to achieve them.”