For the University boys’ basketball team, it’s not possible to reach San Antonio without first going through Fairfield, Texas.
No, there isn’t something wrong with the Trojans’ version of Google maps. Fairfield just happens to be the first stop on University’s playoff road, and University coach Rodney Smith doesn’t want his team looking any farther than that.
“You don’t want to be a brow beater, but all we talk about is the next game, the next opponent,” said Smith, whose Trojans will face Jacksonville in that Class 5A bi-district playoff game in Fairfield on Monday. “ Kids watch film, they know other teams. So you’ve got to keep them focused. That’s the big job. I’ve got to keep them focused, and I’ve got to make sure that every time we hit that floor we’re going to play it like a last game.”
University (26-8) has the pedigree to extend its season all the way to San Antonio and the UIL state boys basketball tournament. With all five starters back from last year’s team, the Trojans have ascended to a No. 1 ranking in the state poll and will carry a 10-game winning streak into the postseason.
And of course they’d love nothing more than to send Smith out in ultimate triumph. Smith was promoted to University’s head football coach and campus athletic coordinator position on Thursday. He’ll finish out the basketball season with his team before moving on, but just like he stresses to his players, he’s not looking down the road.
“One hundred percent focused on basketball. My guys know that,” Smith said. “When I get back over there again, I’m going to reiterate it again, because they will see what is going on and they’re kids. But they will know, and they do know, that I’m 100 percent focused on the task at hand, and that’s Jacksonville on Monday night, down in Fairfield, Texas.”
Jacksonville (10-16), the fourth-seeded team out of District 17-5A, figures to be a massive underdog to the Trojans, who feature one of the most prolific fast-break attacks in the state. Yet Smith labeled the Indians “a very good basketball team,” and said that his team can’t afford to tread lightly any any juncture, but especially in the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to play basketball,” Smith said. “That’s something that our guys have gone out and done. Our guys, the perspective is, to play the next game and be successful the next game and leave it on the floor. That’s how we want to approach it.”
In addition to the Trojans, here are some other Central Texas boys’ teams capable of deep playoff runs:
With 27 wins to their credit, the Panthers, under the direction of first-year coach Brad Chasteen, have amassed Midway’s best record this century. Senior post Bubba Furlong is a load to handle inside, but fortunately for Midway he doesn’t have to do it alone. Forward Xavier Armstead makes savvy decisions, while guard C.J. Williams can be a pest on both ends of the court.
Midway, which finished tied for second in District 8-6A, will open its playoff road on Tuesday against Duncanville (24-7) in West.
The consistent Eagles (26-5) won the District 18-4A title with an 8-0 record, and they should have plenty of comfort level in close games. Twice in district play they defeated Athens by a mere two points, including an overtime victory in their final regular-season game.
Akeem Jackson gives Fairfield a steady post performer. Joey Worley’s team also features capable scoring options in E.J. Ransom and Jailyn Tatum.
The Pirates bowed out in the second round in 2016, yet they’re never a pushover. Kedrick James may be better known for his exploits on the football field – the 6-foot-6 tight end signed with Alabama – but his skill on the basketball court shouldn’t be overlooked.
Senior swingman Amani Gibson brings a veteran’s savvy. He’ll need to be on his game for La Vega to make a run at a regional-tournament appearance – or better.
The Lions made consecutive regional tournament appearances in the 2015 and ’16, and several team leaders from those squads remain. Mylan Shed, Tyrese Heard and Anthony Weathers all average double-digit scoring for a team that puts up more than 70 points a game.
Despite Teague’s scoring prowess, the Lions often wear teams down with their defense, which is employed in a full-court, turnover-inducing amoeba.
The Pirates know how to grind out wins. The District 17-2A champions didn’t allow a single one of their league opponents to reach the 50-point mark.
Crawford will try to ride that stingy defense when its playoff journey opens on Tuesday against Riesel.
Much has changed for the lone Central Texas team to reach the state tournament last year. The Yellow Jackets’ old coach, Bryan Jones, moved to Blum. Coolidge also graduated six seniors from that team, including the 2016 Super Centex Player of the Year Ro’derick Calhoun.
And yet here’s the constant – this team still knows how to play winning basketball. In their run to the District 26-1A title, the Yellow Jackets outscored their opponents by an average score of 80-37.