Though the first regular season game has yet to be played, the No. 10 Waynesville Tigers basketball team has all the makings to remain among the best in the state.
WAYNESVILLE – Though the first regular season game has yet to be played, the No. 10 Waynesville Tigers basketball team has all the makings to remain among the best in the state.
That's what happens when the combination of two 6-foot-8 forwards, a 6-foot-5 center and a plethora of guard talent returns to the court. Speed helps, too.
"We've got some size and good guard play, but all our guys are mobile," Waynesville head coach Chris Pilz said after Tuesday's practice.
The Tigers graduated just three seniors a year ago—all were guards—and, though their shooting ability and tenacity will be missed, the key to Waynesville's success this year will be the length in the paint.
Juwan Morgan, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, who is already drawing interest from NCAA Division I programs, will be Waynesville's centerpiece in 2013.
"He's hungry to be a good player," Pilz said of Morgan, "but he's got to be aggressive and more assertive on offense.
"Last year you saw it at times, but he's still gaining his confidence each day," Pilz continued. "He has done nothing but work on his game since we were put out of the [Class 5, District 10] tournament last year."
Part of his summer experience included playing in a Nike-sponsored summer league against high school senior competition.
This season Pilz said he expects Morgan to "put a tremendous amount of pressure on opponents," which includes them double- and triple-teaming the forward, and that can open opportunities for teammates outside the paint.
In addition to Morgan, the Tigers return Kellieon Williams, a 6-foot-8 hybrid senior, and he will undoubtedly create mismatches for opponents this upcoming season.
Pilz said some of his game plan will require Williams' to shoot outside shots, but he will primarily be a threat to drive to the basket and haul in offensive rebounds.
"When he's offensive rebounding and getting the ball to the rim, that really adds a dimension to our team that a lot of people don't have," Pilz explained.
Kellieon has a combination of height and speed that allows him to stretch the defense from the point guard position, but also from inside the paint.
One key cog, 6-foot-5 center Javante Armstrong, suffered an offseason knee injury. Pilz said Armstrong is on pace to return to the team soon, though the timetable for his first game is still unknown.
"Armstrong is progressing, [but] we're taking it slow with him," Pilz said. "If we had to have him play in a game, he could play, but we're going to let him let us know when he's ready."
The nearly 250-pound Armstrong practiced heavily this week, but is listed as day-to-day. Pilz said when Armstrong does return, he becomes an immediate threat on defense and in crashing for rebounds on both ends of the floor.
"He's one of the top rebounders, if not in Southwest Missouri, in the state," Pilz said of Armstrong. "When he comes back it definitely gives us a different look because he's going to clean up a lot of misses."
Alongside the three big men, a handful of experienced guards will see ample playing time – Michael Thompson (Sr.), Jaron Alexander (Sr.), Joe Johnson (Soph.), and Reggie Walker (Soph.).
Johnson started 27 games as a freshman in 2012-13, and is the projected starting point guard for the upcoming season.
Though the offense will operate primarily inside-out, each guard has shooting ability.
Pilz said if Morgan and Williams are playing at a high level, it will open up quality mid- and long-range jump shots – and the Tiger guards can shoot.
"Our perimeter play is much improved," Pilz explained. "I think you'll see our passing to the post is much better, and we're taking care of the ball much better."
The coach also said each team member shot more than 20,000 shots throughout the summer.
The combination of shooting guards and size inside has Pilz optimistic that his Tigers can evolve into a top-ranked Missouri team, and he makes it known to student-athletes after practices.
But before his team can reach that goal it will have to regularly execute basketball fundamentals. So far during the preseason, each practice has focused on passing, dribbling, blocking out rebounders and making subtle contact, among other things.
"Some guys are having to think, so we're doing a lot of different repetition," Pilz said. "Eventually they'll get it and we'll speed up."
Pilz said this season's approach will focus on "brick by brick" improvement.
Waynesville's varsity team will consist of just 10 athletes, but the Tigers' coaching staff is confident in "be[ing] able to play eight or nine guys at a high level."
That's because a majority of Tiger student-athletes have spent countless hours in the gym this summer practicing communication and execution on both offense and defense.
Expectations are high for this year's Waynesville team, but so far, the Tigers have embraced them.
"The expectation for us is we want to be state-recognized," Pilz said. "We want to be one of the better teams in the state and give ourselves a chance to play deep into March.
"Can we be that?" Pilz asked himself. "I don't know. We've got four months to see where we can get."
The season begins Saturday with an annual jamboree. This year DeSoto will host Waynesville, No. 7 Webster Groves and Miller Career Academy in a four-team bout.
At the event, Pilz doesn't expect his team to be perfect, but is instead looking for steady improvement into March, during which the coach hopes his team is the last standing.
Saturday's jamboree will begin at 4:30 p.m. in DeSoto.