From AC Athletics
LUFKIN, TX - There are always questions surrounding any team entering a new basketball season.
The big question for this year's version of the Angelina College Roadrunners might be, "How do they top last year?"
In his first season as head coach, Kyle Manary and his Roadrunners posted a 22-win season, making Manary the winningest first-year coach in AC history. There were some big moments in big games, creating plenty of buzz both inside Shands Gymnasium and around the conference.
"Yeah, it's going to be tough to top it for sure," Manary said. "We had a lot of dynamic players and a special group, but I think for us now it's just going to be about our consistency, day in and day out, all through practice and the games. Can we win the games we're supposed to, and can we win some games we're not supposed to? The key is to get at least one percent better daily. If we can do that, at the end of the year, we should be right where we need to be to make a deep run. This is a deep league, and everybody got better."
The Roadrunners, picked in the pre-season coaches' polls to finish second in the conference's South Zone, will tip off the new campaign with AC's regular-season opener Wednesday night against Up Tempo Academy at Shands Gymnasium. Fans will get a look at an entire roster of new 'Runner faces: Just one player, sophomore Angel Bullock, returns from last year's squad.
Manary said he and his staff are just as anxious to see how this group responds once the real season begins. Several players, he said, could prove key to the team's overall success.
"Our freshman point guard, Mario Goggins from Little Rock, is someone we want to see in action," Manary said. "He's a defensive monster, and he runs the team. We're excited to see our transfer Gilbert Thomas from Murray State; he's so athletic, and he can really rebound and dunk the ball. And Kevin Norman, a freshman from Alexandria (Louisiana) is someone we're excited to watch. He can shoot the ball, he can rebound and he can defend. We've also got Nylek Cobb, a transfer from Marin College. He's a lockdown defender and our stopper.
"We're ready to see how everyone performs against someone besides teammates."
The team's depth, according to Manary, will prove crucial over the long season. The Roadrunners are at least two-deep at every position, with most players offering a variety of skills.
However, much of the team's focus will be on the defensive end, according to Manary.
"Everyone in basketball at every level scouts so well now, and they're going to try and take you out of your offense," Manary said. "The more opportunities you can create for easy buckets with your defense, the better your team is going to be. We just try preach defense first and let the offense come with the flow of the game."
Considering the massive quantities of talent on display in the conference, getting the team on track early is a priority. Region XIV has long been one of the top JUCO leagues in the country, a factor Manary said he knew even before becoming AC's head coach.
"This conference is a combination of crazy talent and some great coaches," Manary said. "A lot of these coaches have been here for years, and they've got roots in this league. Every night, the worst team can beat the best team if the team doesn't show up to play. Every single day, you've got to show up ready to win."
How fast the Roadrunners jell, how quickly the players develop individually and how they handle the intensity of Region XIV conference basketball will play out over the next few months. For now, Manary and the Roadrunners are just ready for Wednesday night
"We're just really excited. We spent the whole pre-season getting ready for this, and the guys have been great. We've seen so much individual development in practice, and now we're just excited to get to play someone that's not ourselves."