Clarksville, Ark.-New University of the Ozarks Head Men's Basketball Coach Doug Boxell has re-energized the program in just a short time, but he will need to find some quick fixes in order to continue a championship caliber team after four starters graduated.
Boxell brings an impressive resume that includes five state championships collected in Texas High School basketball. With only one returning starter, 70 percent of the scoring gone, and six returning lettermen, Boxell faces the challenge of rebuilding in his first season as a college coach. And, that starts with an enormous recruiting class totaling 20 newcomers.
“We need to find the right 12-14 guys that can help us,” said Boxell. “It may not always be the most talented kids, but rather those that work together and listen. It may be a kid that isn’t a good offensive player but is a good rebounder. It might be a good teammate. We are trying to get the kids to understand how to become a good team. I want them to see the whole picture.”
The cupboard is not empty for Boxell as he inherits four players with significant playing experience. Junior guard Andre Williams headlines the returning group with 45 career starts under his belt. The 6-foot-4 Williams is among the top three-point shooters in the American Southwest Conference. He is the top scoring threat back from last season after averaging 9.2 points per game. Williams hit 44-of-143 (30%) from the three-point line, while nailing 84 percent of his free throw attempts.
“Andre is a real smooth player,” said Boxell. “I am real impressed with how he handles the ball, and his shot selection is good.”
Sophomores Colby Woolverton, Blake Mitchem and Jerard McGinty return after productive freshman campaigns. Woolverton, a 5-foot-11 guard, was named to the ASC All-East Division Freshman Team after scoring 6.6 points per game and hitting nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers. Mitchem, a 6-foot-6 forward, is expected to play a greater role for Ozarks in the post area. Mitchem averaged 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. McGinty, a 6-foot-3 guard, proved to be an outside threat, shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc.
“Colby is used to being a three-point shooter,” said Boxell. “But I think his role has grown to even more. I am real encouraged about Blake’s scoring ability, especially around the basket. And, he listens and wants to get better. He has a lot of natural ability and he will continue to get better. Jerard could have a good year for us. He just needs to learn how to attack the basket a little better.”
Boxell expects several newcomers to contribute immediately. Among those are transfer Josh Odom and freshmen Tyandre Freeman, Mark Perez, Isaiah Boxell, Clayton Crouch and Jessie Raglin. Odom, a 6-foot-4 left-handed guard, was at Eastfield Junior College last season and has shown explosive scoring ability.
“Josh has great quickness off the dribble and in his first step,” said Boxell. “He sees the floor real well. He is a great scorer and a good slasher. He is a real asset to this team. Tyandre is a man inside. He is probably one of the best onside ball post players we have. He gives us great strength and size. Mark has a chance to do a good job for us. He brings a lot of energy and Isaiah does a good job of getting the ball to the open man. He is not flashy, but brings stability on the perimeter. Clayton can shoot the ball well and Jessie displays energy on the defensive end and he can shoot the three. It is just a matter of developing these kids and having them settle down and play within the framework of the team and use their strengths.”
Offensively, the Eagles will adapt to its personnel in the game, according to Boxell.
“We will adjust our offense as to what personnel we have in the game,” said Boxell. “We will ask them to play to their strengths. We don’t need a certain group of kids that fit into a system, they just need to understand how to play as a team. We need to run our offense to get points every time down the floor. We have to be a good passing team and we have to share the ball and understand what good shot selection is.”
Boxell was well-known for his High School squads playing team basketball, something he wants to continue at the collegiate level.
“Just because a player hits two three-pointers doesn’t mean it improves the team because they may not be able to do that every night,” said Boxell. “I want them to understand how to make our team better every night. We want them to get as much satisfaction out of making a good pass to help the team. We want to be able to score points because we have done a good job moving the ball and we have put ourselves in position to score points. We want the kids to be excited about playing on the defensive end, not just on the offensive end.”
The defense must be improved in order for the Eagles to be successful. Ozarks gave up nearly 76 points per game a year ago.
“We will play a half court man-to-man defense,” said Boxell. “We want to put pressure on the ball while everyone else will be playing the gap and trying to control penetration. We have to play good team defense and we have to have all five guys blocking out. If we don’t block out as a team, our defense is nullified because the other team will be getting layups. We have to be physical enough for our freshmen kids to stop senior kids. If we fall on the floor we need to get right back up.”
The Eagles have been among the smaller teams in the ASC the last few seasons, but Boxell has added size to the team with Ben Martin, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, Nate Miller, a 6-foot-7 sophomore transfer, and Shawn Curtis, a 6-foot-4 freshman.
“Ben is a smart player,” said Boxell. “He is good on the defensive end. He gets himself in good position. He understands the game. Nate is a real hard worker in practice and works hard in the weight room. Shawn is the type of kid that when he gets the ball I trust him. He makes good sound decisions.”
Despite a young nucleus of players and the transition to a new coach, the Eagles still figure to be in the mix for a playoff spot, something the program hasn’t done in three seasons.
“Our goal is to make the conference tournament,” said Boxell. “And if you get good enough to make the conference tournament, I think the ceiling is the limit and I think you can go as far as you want to go. Right now we are probably not good enough to get there, but I think if we keep working we have enough material where we could get there. I think it is a realistic goal to make the conference tournament.”
Ozarks opens the season November 15 against Hendrix College in Conway.