This season, The Wildcats’ top priority will be to win that last game and advance to the state tournament themselves.
“I told the guys, ‘That’s got to be our first goal this year. We talk about finishing in the state and winning region championships, but our first goal this year is to get back to the state tournament and be one of those top teams coming out of the region,’” Howard said. “I would be so happy if we reached our first goal of making the state tournament. Once we do that, we’ll set a new goal, one at a time. Right now, we’re just focused on getting back to the postseason.”
The Wildcats will lose two key players off last season’s roster. R.J. Williams and Greg Murphy both graduated and are now playing collegiate football and basketball, respectively.
“They were kind of our better players last year and the heart of our team,” Howard said of Williams and Murphy.
Murphy was first-team all-region last year and scored 1,056 points in his career. Woodland’s co-MVP last year, R.J. Williams, graduated the program after recording 331 career assists.
The pair will be missed, but Howard feels his team has more players ready to step up this season.
“We knew that we had a good junior group moving up to seniors and really good sophomores moving up to juniors, so this is probably the deepest that we’ve been in a few years,” Howard said. “Two kids that really stand out are Qua Stocks and Carrod Watson.”
Stocks will handle the point guard duties for the Wildcats while Watson will play in the post.
“He’s so unselfish. He only had three points, but did such a good job of penetrating and kicking it out to open shooters,” Howard said of Stocks after Woodland’s first scrimmage against Lassiter on Nov. 14. “He’s very hard to stop. He’s extremely athletic.”
Meanwhile, Watson gives the team some much needed size, standing tall at 6 feet, 7 inches.
“Believe it or not, he probably is one of our top shooters in the program. He has a very, very soft touch,” Howard said of Watson. “He’s a complete player. We’re looking for him to have a big year. He’s just a junior right now, but if I had to give a most improved player award from one year to the next, it would be to him. I wouldn’t say he struggled last year, but he did a lot of growing up this past year. He was a sophomore last year and he played like a sophomore. He made a huge jump this year and he’s playing like an upperclassmen.”
Stocks and Watson will be two key contributors, but Howard expects to use his entire roster.
“We only have 12 on varsity. They are all equally talented, they all have specific roles and stuff they do,” he said. “I would say [Stocks and Watson] are who we’re really depending on, but we’re going to be a team where everybody contributes.”
Senior Romello Hicks had 11 points in the scrimmage and will hold down a starting position to begin the season, along with senior Desmon Green.
Senior Quadre Allen also started the scrimmage against Lassiter, but the lineups may change as Howard hopes to use a deep bench.
“We have the perfect breeding ground for competition because all those guys are so equal,” Howard said. “We’ll go into the season starting like that, but I’m sure it will get shuffled around as guys compete in practice.”
One aspect of the team’s game that should be improved this season is the offense. Woodland made seven 3-pointers in the scrimmage and scored over 70 points. The Wildcats did not score 70 points in any game last season.
“We have a bunch of shooters. We are much improved from last year,” Howard said. “On offense, we want to get the ball out as fast as we possibly can. If guys aren’t sprinting down the floor as soon as we get the ball, then they’re coming out of the game.”
The team hopes its fast-paced offense and perimeter shooting will lead to a state playoff appearance, but the competition in the region will be stiff.
“There are so many good basketball teams in our region. It’s hard to say that you have a good chance, but I feel like we have just as good of a chance as anybody,” Howard said of his team’s prospects of winning the region. “We have depth, we’re a much better offensive team this year, but we have some improving to do on defense.”