The inaugural edition of the state rankings released by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches said it all: the Plano West boys are capable of doing serious damage this season.
Despite being saddled with the preseason No. 1 ranking in Class 5A, the Wolves view that as merely a number.
And although that state ranking has changed to fifth following a 6-2 start, West’s awareness of its expectations and the process to fulfill them remain intact.
“Rankings are rankings, but it’s about how you work and prepare every day,” said Anthony Morgan, West head coach. “People have already penciled us in for Austin, but we don’t put much weight on that. If you’re not working, developing and trying to get better every game, anyone can beat you at this level.”
Although the Wolves have learned that the hard way early on, they have the luxury of continuing to grow with one of the most talented ensembles in program history, and the state.
That’s the byproduct of an offseason that garnered no shortage of buzz, following the transfers of juniors Mickey Mitchell (formerly at Prestonwood Christian Academy), Tyler Davis (Frisco Liberty) and senior Avery Johnson Jr. (The John Cooper School) to West.
However, only two of those will suit up for the Wolves this season, as Davis was ruled ineligible by the UIL State Executive Committee in November and will have to wait until his senior year to play.
“Anytime you have a young man with that size and ability, it’s always going to make you better,” Morgan said. “… [Davis] brings a new dimension to the team from his defensive presence to his hustle and scrappiness on the court.”
Fortunately for West, there’s a talented foundation to fall back on, primarily with juniors D.J. Hogg, the reigning District 10-5A Offensive Player of the Year, and Soso Jamabo, last season’s Newcomer of the Year.
“[Hogg] is just coming into his own,” Morgan said. “He’s made a big impact on what we’ve done and we’re definitely looking for some big things from him. … And the athleticism that Soso brings is tremendous and he’s going to be a key piece for us.”
Johnson Jr. and Mitchell will occupy the backcourt, with the latter steadily returning to action after an ACL injury derailed his sophomore year at Prestonwood.
“[Mitchell] has done very well,” Morgan said. “I think sometimes you can come back a bit too quick. We don’t want to do anything that would set him back, so we’re gradually bringing him along. He’s looking a lot better and improving.”
Although that core is well-regarded throughout the state – and nation – the Wolves aren’t exactly a top-heavy unit.
Senior Tre Anderson rounds out the starting lineup with length and outside shooting, while depth is provided by the likes of junior big men Lavell Ramsey and Vezi Magalela, senior sharpshooter Waseem Limbada and freshman Chris Giles, who is already playing big minutes despite his youth.
“It’s a new team and new players, so we’re just trying to come together right now,” Morgan said. “We’re still trying to figure out how to develop our identity. We have a lot of work to do and it’s definitely a work in progress right now.”
Thus far, the Wolves’ athleticism, tempo and outside shooting have paced the team to a staggering 72.4 per-game scoring average. However, an 89-84 loss at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest to Hamilton (Tenn.) showed there’s still work to be done on the other end.
“We definitely need to improve on playing team defense,” Morgan said, “and developing that chemistry on the court, playing together and distributing the ball.”
The Wolves have one month to iron out those wrinkles before the magnitude of wins and losses compounds. They’ll enter district play as a justified favorite, with aspirations of conquering more than just 10-5A.
“I like our chances,” Morgan said, “but we just need to come together, keep working and moving forward with what’s a very talented group.”
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