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Grapeland Sandies Basketball Preview

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Coach Blake Doughty

Team Hoping for Return to San Antonio

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Sandies were a questionable call away from winning the 2020-2021 Class 2A Basketball Championship earlier this year.

With under 10 seconds remaining in the Class 2A Championship Game against the Clarendon Broncos, the Sandies were down by two. Lakerina Smith had the ball for Grapeland. He drove the lane and put up a shot that kissed the backboard and dropped through the net to tie things up. Unfortunately, there was a whistle on the play.

The majority of the Alamodome crowd thought Smith had been fouled and would get a chance at a free throw to hopefully put the Sandies up by one with four seconds to play. That wasn’t the case, however, as Smith was called for a charge and the Broncos would hold on to win by a final score of 64-60.

Late last week, GHS Head Basketball Coach Blake Doughty sat down with The Messenger to discuss the way last year finished up and what the fans could expect from the Sandies on the hardwood this year.  

When asked about the final few seconds of the Championship game, Coach Doughty said, “It was really hard for me to see because it was on the opposite side of the floor. The way the floor is there, it’s elevated from the benches, so anything on the opposite side is hard to see. Obviously, you’re upset because this has the potential to be a massive, game-tying shot with a chance to shoot the free throw and go up. But after watching the film, I think they got that one right. I had some qualms with a few other calls they made. I thought the block charge call they made on BJ (Lamb) with 1:20 left to play was atrocious. I thought the reach call they called on Keke (Kezion Ashford), which was his fifth foul, I thought that was a really bad call. After going back and watching the film, after all the calls – that one was right in your face because there were only 10 or so seconds left in the game – but it turned out to be an okay call. I was upset about it at the time, but looking back on it, that one was probably right.”

The coach continued, “Regardless of was it a block or was it a charge, any time there are less 10 seconds left in a close game like that – a game with that much importance – you would like to see the kids get to decide it. It just didn’t go that way.”  

Grapeland lost two All-State players – Ashford and Lamb – off of the State Runner-Up team to graduation and the coach was asked how he planned to deal with their absence.    

“You don’t replace those guys. You do your best to build other guys up as they step into new roles. But when you talk about kids of that caliber, you don’t replace those guys. We are not going to come in this year and run the same sets we ran for BJ. We are not going to come in here and expect the same defensive game plan stuff to work that worked for Keke. There are different things we are going to have to adjust to because those guys are gone,” he said.

Doughty said despite the loss of Ashford and Lamb, along with loss of starting point guard Michael Dancer, he felt the team had a good group of underclassmen and a top-notch senior class, who had “… been to the mountain top.”

Doughty added, “They have gotten all of the extra practice time these late playoff runs have entailed. These guys who are coming in as juniors – between their freshman and sophomore years, coupled with the two late playoff runs – it’s almost like the juniors are starting the season as seniors, based on all the practice time. We’re really excited to see what Riley (Murchison), Omarian (Wiley) and Johnny (Lamb) along with these guys who have been spot-starters and bench players, we’re excited to see what they can do once they have been thrust into these new roles as big-time guys who will play 20-30 minutes a night. I’m excited to see what they’ve got.”

A silver lining to the Sandies’ football season ending earlier than hoped for, has been to get a little extra time in the gym.

“We’ve had a great run up to this thing,” Doughty explained. “We’ve had basically two weeks of practice now. We are going to be able to get a real scrimmage in. We’ve been able to have leadership meetings and role meetings and a lot of things we haven’t been able to do because we have had some deep runs in football. It’s been like, ‘We have three days of practice and then we have to play a game?’ We have been able to do more this year than we have in the past two, but it’s a double-edged sword. I’m the defensive coordinator and with as much time as we invest in football, we want to be successful.”

This year, the coach said, has been a nice change of pace, allowing more time for practice and to develop as a team.

As to who this year’s starting five would be, Doughty said he had a pretty good idea but it was yet to be determined.

“It will be a fluid situation based on who steps into that role,” he explained. “Our first year here, no one thought Austin Driskell would step into the role he stepped into. He was a JV kid who made massive strides and really bought in to what we’re doing. I think we have a framework as to who the starting five will be. I don’t think anyone will be surprised that Riley, Omarian, Johnny and (All-State player) Cadarian (Wiley) will be in that group. The fifth spot – I’m excited to see some competition for it. We have Lele (Lakerina Smith). We have Kionte (Willis) and Zan Anderson. All three of those guys bring different strengths and all three have areas they can work on. We are going to try and create our starting lineups through these scrimmages and in the next few weeks. That will give us an opportunity to look at all of these guys. That doesn’t even include guys like Cole Goolsby. If he comes out there and shoots 45% from behind the arc, there is nothing that says he can’t step into that fifth spot. That fifth spot is pretty wide open right now. We have our suspects and who we expect to fill that role, but it’s like I said about Austin. Originally, he got a spot start, stepped in and did a great job. So, he got the next start. A few weeks later, we looked up and he had gotten all the starts.”

Scrimmage-wise, the coach said, Cadarian Wiley is still nursing an injury from football so Kionte Willis and Lakerina Smith would likely get the start, with Zan Anderson being the first player off the bench.  

Doughty was also asked about the Grapeland offense he hopes to implement this year.

“We still want to play fast. A lot of that will come down to can we get into transition? Can we force turnovers? Can we get ourselves some easy offense? As far as our offense, whether you’re talking about the Wiley brothers or Riley who has some good length, we are going to go from having two All-State guards to a lot more wing players. We will play Cadarian some at point guard, which will be a different look for him. We will leave him in the middle when we go to zone but now a lot of our sets are going to end with a post look, with the guy bringing the ball up going to the post. We are going to see if we can get some matchups that we like and utilize that against some smaller defenders in the post,” Doughty said.

He went on to say that this year’s team will have good size with the top eight players standing between 6’0” and 6’4”.

Defensively, Doughty said, “Cadarian has been the guy that guarded the third-best player. He is going to shift into the role of guarding the best player. That is going to be tough because we are also going to ask him to lead us in scoring. He is a returning All-State kid and that is what those guys have to do, night in and night out, especially in small schools.”

Continuing with the defensive theme coupled with the fifth starter’s position, the coach said he had held role meetings the previous day. In those meetings, he informed his squad if they want to get more playing time, a player needs to be ready to step up and guard the opponent’s second-best player. 

“Whether you’re talking about Kionte, Lele or Zan, all three of those guys have the athletic ability to stay in front of guards and enough size, strength or length to bother shots at the rim. The question is, which one of those guys really fits that mind set and decides ‘Hey, that’s a role I’m really going to embrace,’” Doughty said.

“The unsung hero from last year’s team was Michael Dancer,” he added. “I know he only averaged four points per game, but that dude was guarding 94-feet the whole time. When we went into our man look, he took the other team’s best player. I want to find out who will step into that role. The other guys got all the publicity and credit, but I want to know who will be the team’s bulldog, do the dirty work and who will do the things that don’t show up in the box score.”  

As the conversation was drawing to a close, Doughty was asked where he saw his team at the end of February and early March.

“I don’t want to put an expectation on it. I saw the TABC came out with their rankings and we were ranked at 19. That is the lowest we’ve been ranked since I’ve been here. My hope is that we are relevant in the Region (Region III). My hope is at the end of February, if we can still be playing basketball, that would be great. More important than that, I hope that we are maximizing ourselves. If we really feel like we have done everything we could do and we don’t make it as far as in years past, I’ll be okay with that. The one thing I don’t want is feeling that this team didn’t reach its potential, regardless of what has happened in years past. This year’s Grapeland team will be different than other Grapeland teams. I want to make sure we are locked into each individual day that we get, each individual practice and each individual game,” he said.

Doughty was also questioned as to who he believed was the favorite to win Region III.

“I don’t believe there is one. I think us, Martin’s Mill, Gary and Garrison were in a class of our own last year. Gary and Martin’s Mill were hit harder than we were by graduation. Garrison had a couple of kids move out and they lost their coach. To me, the whole region has taken a small step back. There are still some really good teams, though. Douglass is a really good team. LaPoynor is also a really good team. I’m also interested to see what Frankston looks like. Outside of that, Tenaha is always good. Big Sandy is always good. Woden is always good. I think in a year where there is no clear favorite, you can’t count out those traditional powers,” he said.

At the district level, Doughty said he felt Lovelady would give the Sandies their most competition, followed by Centerville “… but after that, it’s going to be the Wild West. Groveton has some athleticism that will give Slocum, Leon and Latexo some problems.”

As to what he would like to tell the Grapeland fans, Doughty didn’t hesitate.

“We have the best fans in the state of Texas. Y’all just keep coming out. We hope to put a product on the court that is equivalent to what you have been watching over the last few years. It’s not just been my tenure here. The last five or six years, the product boys’ basketball has been able to put on the floor has been tremendous. We don’t want to be the group that ends that run. We want to be able to continue to give the people of Grapeland a quality product they can be proud of,” he said.

The Sandies officially tip-off the season on Friday, Nov. 19 as they host the Elkhart Elks. The junior varsity starts at 5 pm with the varsity game to follow at approximately 6:15 pm.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.

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