OXFORD — Bobby Jones said his Talawanda High School boys basketball team has a lot of raw talent, but in order to be successful, the Braves will “have to do all the ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
Talawanda begins play under Jones with just a handful of returnees who got consistent minutes last year, and they will be looking to replace their top three scorers from a squad that finished 5-18.
The Braves haven’t experienced a winning season since 2008-09. However, Jones already has seen improvement since he stepped in this summer and is confident they can turn things around as the season gets underway Friday at Waynesville.
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“People will see a Talawanda team that plays hard, and that’s something we’ve preached from the start — we can’t take possessions off,” said Jones, who is in his 20th season coaching and takes over as the fourth head coach at Talawanda in the past three years.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement already, and the ceiling for success is very high. They are hungry to have a good program, and that was evident from the get-go. They want to win and they work hard in practice every day to take care of business on game night. It’s going to be a fun season.”
Talawanda has five seniors, including top returner Tommy Winkler (6-foot-2 guard) and potential starters Ryan Henes (6-2 guard/forward), Tristan Fontaine (5-9 guard) and David Kraushar (5-9 guard). Senior John Beckett, a 6-4 forward, likely will come off the bench.
Also expected to start will be sophomore point guard Craig James (5-9) and sophomore forward Jonathan Richter (6-4). Junior Josh Verst (6-0 guard), sophomore Braden Wright (6-3 guard) and junior Matt Bowling (6-1 guard) also will be in the mix for playing time, Jones said.
“We’ve got some talent, but we’re young,” Jones said. “It’s just a matter of getting experience on the court and putting the pieces of the puzzle together and a question of how soon we can mesh. We’ve got a mix of quickness and size and some guys that can shoot.”
Jones has been emphasizing defense and rebounding. He expects to press, and a big key will be if his players can utilize their speed on fast breaks to score points.
So far his players have bought in to what Jones is doing, particularly on defense, which he worried about.
“Defense and rebounding — that’s what we’re going to hang our hat on,” he said. “We worked a lot in the summer and fall through our workouts and this past month on fast breaks, but in order to score that way, we have to rebound and defend first and we’re going to have to do it by committee.”
Jones watched film from last year to try to figure out some things Talawanda could be doing better, but said it ultimately is hard to apply corrections with such a different group of players.
The Braves were a much taller team last year and relied a lot on Evan James getting the points. James averaged 15.7 points per game, and Ty Hornsby and Josh DeWitt combined to account for 20 points a game. Jones expects more offense by committee this year, but said a handful of guys are capable of chipping in 16-17 points a game.
The one thing Jones could take from last season, though, was the need to finish games better, so that’s another point of focus as the season gets going.
“There were a lot of games they were in last year, but it seemed when the second half rolled around, they struggled,” Jones said. “We don’t want to be a first-half team. We want to finish strong, so that’s something we’ll work on hard. We hope we can put together complete games, put our foot on the pedal and not let up.”
While Jones has seen positive energy and enthusiasm from his players so far, he is working to ensure that continues regardless of how quickly success comes on the court.
“We’ve preached no matter what, the season is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but they’ve bought into being disciplined on both ends of the floor and that’s a good sign. We concentrate on us, and if they come to work every day, stay positive and hold each other accountable, we’ll be successful. Hopefully we get a couple wins under our belt early on to build some confidence, but it’s going to be a journey. You have to start somewhere, and our goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
Coach: Bobby Jones (first season)
2017-18 Record: 5-18 overall, 2-10 SWOC (sixth place, tied)
OHSAA Classification: Division I
Schedule: Nov. 30 — Waynesville Tipoff Tournament vs. Waynesville, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 1 — Waynesville Tipoff Tournament vs. Oakwood or West Carrollton, 6 or 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 4 — Taylor, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 8 — at Fenwick, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 11 — Goshen, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 15 — at Mount Healthy, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 18 — Little Miami, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 21 — Harrison, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 22 — at Monroe, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 4 — Edgewood, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 8 — at Northwest, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 11 — at Ross, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 12 — Colerain, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 15 — Badin, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 22 — at Little Miami, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 25 — at Harrison, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 26 — at Franklin County (Ind.), 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 1 — Mount Healthy, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 5 — at Edgewood, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 8 — Northwest, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 12 — Eaton, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 15 — Ross, 7:30 p.m.