The Cass High boys basketball team and its high-paced, 3-pointer heavy offensive attack was one game away from the state playoffs last year, losing an overtime game to Kell to end the season.
This season, in a new region, Cass is looking to slow the pace down, and hopes the change in tempo along with several returning starters will help the Colonels get over the hump and make state.
“We’ve went away from that a little bit over the summer, just based off what our new region alignment is,” second-year head coach David Brock said of the change of tempo. “Villa Rica, Hiram, Carrollton, Kell, Rome, they just have some really, really good athletes. I think we can have better basketball players if we make it a halfcourt game and set a lot of screens and really grind things out. I think that’s our best chance to compete and get to state.
“So the pace will be slower. The possessions will be less than last year, but at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to get to the state tournament, which is our goal this season.”
Cass will begin the season today against Armuchee, and there will be some familiar faces on the court with four starters returning.
Despite a strong returning group, though, Cass did lose its top scorer and the 2015-16 DTN Co-Player of the Year in Mike Sims.
“We return four of five starters, so we’re only losing Mike out of the starters, which is a big loss, as well as Matt Mundy and a lot of leadership from Noah James,” Brock said. “We lost some pieces that are important, but we’ve returned a lot and those guys have had another year in the system to learn it. They’ve worked on their games and have improved as individual players, so now we just have to piece it together as a team and go from there.”
Returning junior point guard Ashton Burley has been the top playmaker in each of the last two seasons and averaged 10.1 points, 5.1 assists, and 2.7 steals per game last year.
Senior C.J. Bennett also returns after averaging 11.5 points per game.
“Ashton and C.J. are both looking really good,” Brock said. “C.J. has been slowed a little bit by a shoulder injury, but he’ll be ready to go [today]. Ashton has been really good, just continuing on from the end of last year. He was playing pretty good ball and he’s picked up where he left off. So those two have spearheaded things for us.”
The starting lineup will be rounded out by quick, defensive-minded guard Jacquez Milles, athletic wing Ian Whittington and versatile forward Trystan Coffman.
Depth off the bench in the backcourt for Cass will include Carter Hedden and Mark Chester.
While the lineup is quick, skilled and athletic, the Colonels’ tallest starter will be 6-foot-2. Cass will be able to use its athletic lineup to create mismatches on offense, and Jake Collum will be a valued member of the rotation as an athletic forward.
Despite the lack of size, Brock does not expect his team to be at a disadvantage on the boards.
“We’re good at team rebounding. Ashton rebounds very well for his position. Ian Whittington is a very, very good rebounder. Jake Collum is a great rebounder,” Brock said. “So I think there will be some matchups maybe where we might struggle with 1-on-1 rebounding if it was coming to that, but we’re pretty good building a wall around the paint to get them. I think we’ll scrap enough to get the rebounds we need to win games.”
Cass will have to be able to rebound well with some of the athletic teams in the region, including Kell, which has some size down low.
However, Brock ultimately believes his Colonels have a strong chance to make the state playoffs.
“Kell’s returned a lot. A lot of people are looking at them and Carrollton as the top of the region,” Brock said. “But there’s no reason, when we get to the end of the year, we’re not one of those four teams going to the state tournament. It’s a tough region. There’s five teams that could probably be bundled up together, 3-7, but as long as we can commit to our style of play, we’ll be in a good spot come region tournament time.”