Byng boys coach Trent Miller knows a lot more about his team heading into the 2010-2011 campaign than he did at this time a year ago. But that doesn’t mean this season won’t be a learning experience for the Pirates and their fourth-year head coach.
After an impressive two-year run during which Byng won 39 games, Miller had to replace four starters who graduated off his 2008-2009 squad. With only two seniors in the lineup for most of last season, the Pirates had some growing pains but still finished with a respectable 15-14 record while playing a typically tough schedule.
Although Miller returns a solid nucleus off last year’s team, he will go into Tuesday’s season opener at Colbert with new players in a couple of key spots and question marks in a couple of others.
“We’re going to have to develop some guard depth and stay healthy, and because of some losses we’ve had from last year’s team, we’re going to have to mesh together,” Miller explained. “Once we get some game experience, I think our kids will be okay.”
Byng’s two biggest question marks are at point guard, where junior Jake Scroggins takes over for Sentro Burns (who graduated) and Chad Cloud (who moved to Konawa) and on the front line, where center Eli Bailey is returning from knee surgery after a breakout sophomore season.
“He’s different than the point guards we’ve had the last four years,” Miller said of the 5-10 Scroggins. “He’s not your prototypical point guard, but he’s a very heady player, he makes good decisions with the basketball and he’s strong.
“He’s just a pretty solid player, which is what you want out of the point guard spot,” he added. “He’s a guy you can trust with the ball in his hands, and he can make free throws.”
Bailey averaged 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season after playing only sparingly as a freshman, but he injured his knee and missed a couple of games early in the season then suffered another, more serious, injury in the Pirates’ final game that required surgery. The 6-4 Bailey should team with 6-3 senior Ryan Williams (who averaged seven points and five rebounds as a junior) to give Byng the area’s best 1-2 punch in the paint.
“As long as he stays healthy, Eli should have the same kind of production he had last year,” Miller said. “He is a player who, if you’re scouting us, he’s the guy you circle. He works hard in the post, he’s got good hands, and he shoots free throws decent. He’s gained about 20 pounds, and I think he’ll be a guy who’s hard to stop.
“Ryan is a really good post defender,” he said. “He kind of alleviates some of the pressure for us inside. He’s worked hard, and I think he’ll be able to score with his back to the bucket this year. That should be an added thing for us. He and Eli have matched up in practice, and they’ve pushed each other.”
Like Bailey, junior swing man Tate O’Grady became a key player for the Pirates as a sophomore, averaging 7.2 points per game. Miller said O’Grady has the tools to take some of the offensive pressure off Bailey.
“Tate started out pretty green and unsure of himself, and as the season progressed he turned into a pretty good player,” Miller noted. “He had a good offseason. He worked hard and got stronger, and I look for him to have a good year offensively. He took a big step as a sophomore, and starting his junior season I think that will continue.”
Byng’s fifth starter will be 5-10 junior guard Austin Williamson, who saw only limited duty last season.
“He’s worked hard in the scrimmages and has been pretty successful,” Miller said of Williamson.
Freshman Reid Wall, sophomore Trent Davis and junior Matt Gore are the Pirates’ top candidates for production off the bench, and Miller said each brings something different to the table.
“Reid had a really good offseason and has looked good in scrimmages,” Miller said of Wall. “He’s long and athletic. He’s a basketball player. He can play anything from the 2 to the 5.
“(Gore) is an undersized 4, but he’s got good hands and he passes the ball extremely well and uses his body well — he plays a lot bigger than 5-11, and he fits in well with what we do,” he added. “Trent has the longest armes on the team, and he knows how to play. He really does a lot of good things. He’s a guy like Reid who can step out and play the 2 or he can go inside and play the 5.”
Byng — one of Oklahoma’s smallest Class 4A schools and one of only three area schools above Class 2A — opens its basketball season almost a month after the Pirates’ first two opponents, Colbert and Latta (Friday). Miller said playing road games against quality teams with multiple games under their belt in the season’s first two games puts his club at an obvious disadvantage but could also speed up the Pirates’ development.
“They’re not bad openers — the drawback for us is that it’s always scary when you open up and play teams that are three or four games into their schedule,” Miller explained. “Latta lost their first game (at Dale), but they’ve had a chance to get some things worked out (in victories over Roff and Vanoss). That concerns me somewhat.
“Colbert is a winnable game, but they’re 6-0 right now, then you turn around with a rivalry game,” he added. “I think Latta is a good early-season game because it’s a game people are excited about. Before it’s all said and done, I think Latta will be a really good team.”
A trademark of Miller’s other Byng squads was that they were better in February than they were in December. He said the 2010-2011 Pirates should continue that trend.
“I think the upside for this team is really high,” Miller predicted. “It’s just a matter of us continuing to work hard and learning from our successes and our failures.
“Our kids work hard, and I feel like they’ve had a good offseason,” he added. “They’re ready to play. We’re ready to beat up on somebody else other than ourselves.”