Clarksville, Ark.-U of O Head Men?s Basketball Coach Doug Boxell and his Eagles have inched closer to making the playoffs over his three-year tenure. Now in year four, Boxell believes his team has what it takes to qualify for the post-season.
Last season, the Eagles were on the brink of earning a playoff bid for the first time since 2005-2006. Excitement has mounted around the program as a veteran team will take the court this season.
“It basically came down to one game last season to make the playoffs,” said Boxell. “I hope our kids feel like they have something to prove and we have the talent to prove it. It is just a matter of whether we put the work into it. With the experience we have I really like where we sit right now.”
Boxell will have plenty to work with as he returns three starters and five seniors. Two of those seniors, Marcus Bobb and Ronnie Dodd, were named to the All-Conference Team last season. The Eagles will no doubt rely on the tandem to make a playoff push.
Bobb, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound native of Ponder, Texas, ranked eighteenth in the American Southwest Conference in scoring (14.0), tenth in rebounding (7.0) and sixth in field goal percentage (57.6%). Bobb has been among the top field goal shooters in the conference the past two seasons. Dodd, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound native of Forney, Texas, might be the best offensive talent in the league. He ranked in the ASC’s top-15 in four different categories, finishing fifteenth in scoring (15.0), thirteenth in rebounding (6.4), fifteenth in field goal percentage (49.2%) and eighth in blocked shots (.9). He earned ASC East Division Newcomer of the Year honors last season.
“Marcus is mature and has a high basketball IQ,” said Boxell. “He is a team player and will take good shots. I was his high school coach so we know each other really well. He may be the oldest player in the nation at the NCAA Division III level. Ronnie is our best athlete and best basketball player. He gives us that extra element. He will be a matchup problem for our opponents and is probably our hardest player to stop. He is an inside and outside player.”
In addition to Bobb and Dodd, the senior class includes Isaiah Boxell, Jermery Victor and Dylan Ballard. With the strength of the senior class, Boxell’s veteran club should be able to handle the competitiveness of the ASC and its travel.
“The continuity of having seniors is important in our program,” Boxell said. “They have been through the rigors of college basketball. They know every game is important in this conference. Their experience and knowledge is valuable.”
A stout inside game usually translates into opening up opportunities on the perimeter. That will play advantageous for guards Boxell, Victor, Andrew Cummings and Deon Pleasant. Boxell led the team in assists (3.2) and brings toughness. Boxell played in all 25 games and shot 78 percent from the free throw line. Victor is an explosive player who can create his own shot. He averaged just over five points per game in 14 starts. Cummings, a junior, can slash to basket and showed an ability to put points on the board. He averaged over seven points per game in 22 games. Pleasant, a sophomore, saw valuable time at point guard last season. Those four on the perimeter along with 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Josh Clark give Ozarks depth. Clark displayed a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds averaging 4.5 boards a game. Clark, too, can score in bunches as he averaged 8.0 points per game. He led the team in free throw percentage (83%).
“Jermery will be one of our outside shooters,” said Boxell. “He can create his own shot. Aaron Johnson is an outside shooter. Jermery and Josh can score the basketball. Josh does well at getting offensive boards. Andrew gives us hustle and experience.”
Even with three starters back, the Eagles may be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Ozarks was picked to finish next to last in the ASC East Division. While the Eagles are flying under the radar, that hasn’t stopped Boxell from believing in his team.
“I feel like your past represents who you are,” said Boxell. “It’s our job to change that. We have five seniors and we have a chance to build from last year. I’m naive and still think we can win a conference championship. But I think any coach and any player should think that.”
Ozarks has the size and depth inside to prove the naysayers wrong. In addition to Bobb, Dodd and Ballard, Boxell landed transfer John Martin to give the Eagles even more strength in the paint.
“We have three or four good size players inside that will be hard to matchup with,” said Boxell. “Size-wise this is really where we need to be. The key is going to be using that size to get offensive rebounds in order to give us a second chance. Even though Marcus has a good outside shot, we still need him to play inside. We are hoping that John will come through for us.”
Martin isn’t the only newcomer that could have an impact. Freshmen Darius Tabron, Vashun Lusk and Kris McCrary will provide the Eagles with a boost.
“Darius is a good athlete and has worked real hard,” said Boxell. “Vashun is our Charles Barkley-type player. He has the potential to help us out. He has that wide body to be productive inside. Chris has good work ethic and is athletic.”
Boxell knows there is plenty to build on for the upcoming season, but also plenty to improve on.
“We don’t have too many players that can get by defenders,” he said. “Sometimes when your motion offense is not getting what you want, you need to have players that can create on their own. Defensively, we have to play great team defense and limit our opponents to one shot. And, we need to develop that bond as a team. We need to have a reason to fight together as a team. Then our X’s and O’s will take care of themselves.”