Runnin’ Panthers hit the court with high expectations
By KEITH SPARKS
The Panther basketball team has long been respected across Central Texas, due in large part to Head Coach Barry Boren’s full-court press and history of success.
This year is no different, but Boren made sure to temper expectations until after football season is over. Until then, they’ll be without a true starting center.
“It’s kind of crazy, but we’re picked by the prognosticators to win our region, but we’re going to play until probably Christmas without a legitimate post man,” Boren said. “Our record is probably going to take a hit, but excellent, excellent guard play. It’s just that we’re small.”
The Panthers will start their season with a true “small ball” lineup that includes point guard Carson Perkins, shooting guard Parker McCurdy, guard/forward David Basalla, forward Jareck Naylor, and makeshift center Cade Cole, who typically plays the three or four position, but will be forced into the center role until big men Kory Schmidt and Walker Baty are done playing defensive end for the Liberty Hill football team that will likely go deep into the playoffs.
“When football is over, the two defensive ends are going to be our post guys,” Boren said. “Kory Schmidt’s about 6’4”, 225, and Walker Baty is about 6’5”, 240, so they’ll provide some punch in the middle, but until they get there, we’re playing Cade Cole as our post man, and he’s about 6’3”, 165 pounds.”
Despite their lack of size, Boren likes the Panthers’ chances of success early on, considering the shooting ability his team has. All five of his projected starters can shoot the ball from deep, particularly Perkins, McCurdy, and Basalla.
“Our one, two, and three are back, Carson, Parker, and David,” Boren said. “They all shot it better than 33 percent from the three-point line last year, and we led the state in free throws for the fifth time in 12 years, so I think that’s going to be our identity again, being able to spread people out and get to the hoop. If they try to pack it, shoot it.”
Perkins was the District MVP last season as a sophomore and will look to take that honor once again in his third year as the Panthers’ starting point guard. He’s improved just about every facet of his game since his freshman year, but it’s likely that he’ll often be double-teamed. Fortunately for the Panthers, Boren doesn’t think that’s such a good idea when you look at the talent surrounding him.
“Without respecting the post, they may try to double the ball, send guys at Carson and double him, or they may play a box-and-one, but I feel like we’ve got good enough other guys that if they do that, they’re going to have to pay for it,” Boren said.
According to Boren, Perkins gained some valuable experience over the summer while playing for a team that had more talent than he’s used to, requiring him to play as a true point guard, making smart decisions on whether to shoot or distribute to his teammates. Despite the improved competition in those tournaments, Boren said Perkins continued to dominate.
“He played on a really good AAU team, and he got a chance to feel what it was like not to have to be the guy,” Boren said. “On that team, he was still very good. They won two or three, maybe four (Great American Shootout tournaments), which is pretty hard to do. They went to Vegas and went 4-1, so he’s had a chance to play with other guys and knows what that’s like.”
The Panthers struggle somewhat during fall league, which Boren attributed to the lack of a coach on the court to tell them which plays to run. Boren is hopeful that with the combination of his leadership and cerebral play from his team, that won’t be an issue during the season.
“I just got through our gameday stuff and showed them our play card, and we’ve got 24 things that we can do on offense,” Boren said. “That’s a lot. Like I told them, this should be one of our advantages is that we’re smart. We’ve got smart players, so that’s what I’m counting on.”
Sophomores Kadin Knight, Hunter Claymon, and Jackson Levee will be on the roster, as well, and while they may not make a noticeable impact immediately, Boren thinks the varsity experience will prove valuable as they become upperclassmen.
“They’re in a position where David and Parker graduate, here comes two more guys who are just going to be juniors, and when Carson’s gone, those guys will move into that role,” Boren said. “Really, it’s just a nice segue for keeping your program going where it needs to go.”
The varsity roster will also include junior guard Caeden Minix, junior forward Cole Ondrasek, junior guard/forward Kaleb Bannon, junior guard/forward Brady Brewer, and junior forward JC Russell.
While the majority of the Panthers’ district remained the same after the summer’s reclassification, a few things changed. They’re now in Region IV District 27, losing Leander Glenn to Conference 5A and losing Llano to another district while picking up Austin’s Eastside Memorial.
Boren expects Liberty Hill and Burnet to be the favorites once again with Lampasas, Taylor, and Salado making runs at playoff spots, as well.
On Tuesday, the Panthers played in a unique tournament-style scrimmage that included 5A Georgetown High School and 6A Leander High School.
Their first official game of the season will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Liberty Hill against Hutto.