It’s déjà vu for Tompkins coach Bobby Sanders. Not necessarily the fun kind of déjà vu, either.
Last season, the Falcons returned just one player that was on varsity the previous year. It was a makeshift year after an incredible run to the Class 6A state championship game in 2017-18.
This season, just two players return from last year’s varsity: senior post Hank Sanders and sophomore guard B.B. Knight.
So Monday’s 63-51 loss to an undefeated Eisenhower team was not unexpected for a team that starts three sophomores. Tompkins (5-5) has even had more good moments than bad early on, including an impressive performance at the prestigious McDonald’s Texas Invitational tournament last month.
“Going so far in 2018 with all those seniors and being a new school … it leads you with a void the couple of years afterward, with very little experience,” Bobby Sanders said. “Those guys who went to state had 3-4 years of experience, taking all the varsity minutes. We’ve just got to start playing younger guys this year, right now, for the future.”
Against Eisenhower, the Falcons were plagued by turnovers (15) and lengthy stretches of inconsistent play. They struggled finishing the game as they were outscored 18-12 in the fourth quarter after entering the period trailing only by six, 45-39.
In other words, they were very much affected by the inexperience the roster holds.
Hank Sanders is one of eight seniors on the roster, but the only one who played varsity last year. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder had 11 points and 11 rebounds and is more physical and confident rebounding and contesting shots.
The 6-foot-4 Knight, regarded as one of the best pure shooters in the Class of 2022, had 12 points on 4-for-7 3-point shooting and showed improved ballhandling and leadership.
Otherwise, Tompkins is very much a work in progress. Sophomores Carmelo Yakubu (6-2 guard) and Jason Clark (6-2 guard) started. Yakubu is a strong defender and rebounder, but raw offensively. Clark is a confident shooter—he knocked in 4 of 11 3s—but has a lot to learn defensively.
“I’ve just got to be confident, taking the best shots I can shoot and doing what coach says,” Clark said. “Defense has been a tough adjustment, going against faster, taller guys. That’s the hardest part.”
Bobby Sanders said there’s no real process to expediting varsity experience for young players. It simply comes with game reps.
“And pray a lot,” he added with a smile.
“We just have to coach up the younger guys, make sure they’re good,” Knight said. “Help them through situations. When your shot’s there, take it. Work on getting stronger and faster. Get used to the speed of the game. Those are the big things.”
Against Eisenhower, Bobby Sanders played 10 players in the first half. He is still trying to mix and match rotations and see which player is capable of what.
“It’s where I expected them to be,” he said. “As far as them, they don’t know enough about basketball to know what to expect at this point. But I know where we can be, and I’m excited about it. Those sophomores getting more reps, we’ll get a lot better faster.”
Playing well at the McDonald’s Invitational, where the Falcons went 4-1, and not being able to showcase the entire playbook yet due to a steep learning curve are encouraging factors, as well as the expected returns of junior Jalen Milroe and senior R.J. Smith from the football team.
Time will tell.
“It’s tough,” Jackson Sanders said. “The speed was so different for the underclassmen that they’re having to learn that real quick. They just need to get comfortable with shot selection and passing. Any type of confidence is a plus.
“It’s what you’d expect with a new team like this.”