The Highlanders have some growing up to do.
Fresh off a two-loss season in which the McLennan Community College men’s basketball team ended their year with a disappointing defeat from Howard in the Region V Tournament, the Highlander roster features 10 freshmen with zero college hoops experience.
It’s not as if head coach Kevin Gill hasn’t been here before. Gill courted a team ripe with 12 newcomers his first season as the man in charge of the Highlanders — way back in 2002.
“We are going into this season with inexperience, no doubt,” he Gill said. “But we are looking at it as a coaching opportunity. And I think our players are going to buy in. If we can all do that, I think we can be pretty good.”
But the respect is still there, as MCC is ranked 23rd in the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll heading into their games this weekend. The Highlander coaching staff will have its hands full. Gone are 2016 leading scorers in NJCAA All-American Shannon Bogues (18.8 ppg) and Region V All-Region guard Isaiah Gurley (17.5 ppg). Both multi-talented players, Bogues latched on with SFA, while Gurley headed down I-35 to Texas State. Ability aside, Gill could find it hard replacing the leadership of both players.
“It’s always tough in junior college replacing players, especially guys like Isaiah and Shannon,” Gill said. “I think we will have to do it by committee — a little here and a little there.”
Gill could look to Midway product and guard Xavier Armstead to take some minutes as floor general. A 6-foot-5 swingman, Armstead averaged 16 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the Panthers a year ago and was named District 8-6A’s offensive MVP. Midway teammate Malachi Barron joined Armstead in signing with Gill.
“He’s growing as a player and really takes to the coaching well,” Gill said. “He’s good offensively and is getting better o the defensive side.”
Battling with Armstead at the starting guard position is Aaron Gregg, who Gill says is “continuing to get better each day and always plays hard.”
Dayante McClellan should see a lot of minutes as a swing forward, a first-team all-district selection out of Del Valle High School his junior and senior years. McClellan broke his nose during MCC’s first scrimmage this season, but Gill says the youngster is ready to go.
“He’s one of those guys that is a joy to coach,” he said. “He’s a great kid.”
Jashawn Talton and Daniel Pinho Severo make up the short list that remains from last year’s team. Both played significant minutes in 2016, though, so the Highlanders have at least a bit of experience coming back. North Lake transfer Ayo Dada completes the trio of upperclassmen.
The rawness of Gill’s team isn’t preferable, but it doesn’t mean his guys can’t surprise some people and get back to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. after a one-year drought. Besides, Gill’s track record speaks for itself.
“We are embracing the challenge and we have a group of guys that have bought in and are playing the right way,” he said. “Young or not, once they get into some games early, they will see the speed of the game and adjust to it. I told them that basketball doesn’t stop for anyone, you just have to continue to play.”