Fort Scott Community College head men's basketball coach Michael Cook has seen many things he likes so far in pre-season practice. And what he sees may lead the Greyhounds much closer to their goal of advancing to the Region VI Quarterfinals for the first time than the Jayhawk Conference-Eastern Division coaches poll prediction of eighth place.
"That's based on last year," Cook says of the poll. "That's usually how the bottom five is picked. The one thing I can tell you we're going to do is we're going to compete. With 6 or 7 players (last year), we lost to Coffeyville (by one point). We'd be in a game til the last minutes when we ran out of gas. These guys allow us to do more things that we want to offensively and defensively. It allows us to shuffle guys in and out."
The season begins Tuesday night at 7:30 against Redlands College (Okla.) at Arnold Arena. The women will open their season at 5:30 against Crowder (Mo.) (The women's preview will be included in this weekend's Herald-Tribune.)
The greater depth Cook feels he has -- perhaps going 11 or 12 deep rather than seven -- should allow the Greyhounds to finish with a much better than last season's 1-17 division mark and 4-27 overall record.
Only three players return but all started at least part time last season and each will play major roles. Guard Robert Mason (6' 2", Soph., Kansas City, Kan.) will likely come in off the bench. He can play either point guard or shooting guard and Cook feels that using him as a sixth or seventh man can help with what will be a relatively inexperienced rotation.
Forward Alex Barner (6' 4", Soph., Fort Scott) will return to the team once football season concludes. Barner averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds and shot 44 percent from the field in just 21 games last season.
"He's going to do whatever it takes to help us win," Cook said. "He's got an inside/outside type of game. Great hands in the post. He's added a 3-point shot. We'll probably bring him off the bench because he's going to have to get acclimated to what we're doing. If he earns that role, he'll be starting."
Jacob Gougler (6' 5", Soph., Galena) had to learn the point guard position on the job last season and adapted enough to score about 6 points a game and shoot 37 percent from 3-point range. Cook would like to see him shoot more and notes that he has become "more explosive off the dribble."
Gougler and Mason help provide depth at the point, where they will be joined by freshman Julian Mills (6' 0", Colorado Springs). Mills is making the transition to college ball quickly, Cook says, and his ability to get into the lane and create plays for others has already made an impact in scrimmages against other schools.
Another Fort Scott grad, Gary Floyd (6' 1", Fr.) may be able to make an impact early as well. Cook says Floyd's quickness will be an asset in the transition game and he has already learned the defense.
"He's probably shooting better than he's ever shot," Cook says. "He plays well with Julian, which makes it easy for me to play both of them together and give us two ball handlers out there."
Montrell King (6' 4", Fr., Olathe) and Creed Flowers (6' 3", Fr., Tulsa) are both shooting guards and proficient at the 3-point line. King needs a bit more weight -- he's around 200 pounds -- although he can take the contact and finish on drives.
"He still doesn't understand how good he can be," Cook says. "He can be even better. He takes everything we teach him and he does it well."
Flowers is one those who's always hanging around the gym working on his game. While he can shoot from anywhere, he can also create shots from the dribble.
"If you see anyone walking around on campus with a basketball, it would be Creed," Cook says. "And one thing I love about Creed is that he excels in the classroom. He's got all A's."
Teance Walton (6' 3", Fr., Wichita East) brings some versatility to the Greyhound lineup. He's playing at least two positions in pre-season and sometimes three. He played a lot in the post in a scrimmage against Pratt but he hit a tying 3-point shot in the dying seconds before the Beavers came back the other way to win the scrimmage on a last-season shot. He's undersized at forward but can get rebounds with his quickness.
Cortez Barnett (6' 4", Soph., Kansas City, Mo.) is another forward who was recruited by FSCC but decided to go to Hutchinson last season. Unhappy with his playing time, he came over to Fort Scott. He has to adjust to Cook's style of play but has the ability to be an All-Conference player. He's been getting looks from low-to-mid-major Division I schools such as Missouri-Kansas City and Missouri State, as well as some Division II schools. He has good ball-handling skills and can also shoot the 3. He'll begin the season coming off the bench but could crack the starting lineup later in the season.
Cook notes that the Greyhounds will be bigger in the post than they have been since he became coach three seasons ago. His pair of freshmen posts are 6' 8", 200-pound Damien Trost from Denver and 6' 9" , 290-pound freshmen Sheldon Hayes from Hewitt, Texas.
Trost and Hayes won't have too much pressure on them to score. Rebounding and defense are what matter to Cook in the inside.
"We don't need Damien to score 12 points game," Cook said. "We just need him to block out, control the paint and get us some rebounds. He knows his role. He wants to contribute, whether that's 2-3 minutes a game or 20 minutes a game. That's going to make him very valuable to us because he's not going to complain that he doesn't get the ball.
"Sheldon may not have scored a lot in high school but he did all the dirty work. He knew his role. Last weekend in our scrimmage, he played well enough that Wichita State talked to him."
The best thing about the Greyhounds so far, Cook said, is that they are coming together as a team, which key to their development considering how many freshmen they have.
"One thing that I like we're getting better at as a team is understanding the offense to where every option is not just the first option in our offense," Cook said. "We're more of an aggressive team in terms of trying to score in a variety of different ways. Our defense has caught up. Right now, we'll be a little behind on offense. Were working on our defense, which is hustling and effort and determination and trusting each other. Building that trust takes time but everybody's done it pretty well so far."
NOTES -- The Jayhawk Conference Shootout will not be held this season. It will likely come back next season but it is not known yet in what format or at what part of the schedule....
FSCC's men play in a three-day classic at Hutchinson next weekend. They'll face the host Blue Dragons on Nov. 4, face Weatherford (Texas) on the 5th and take on Lincoln Land (Ill.) on the 6th....