Clarksville, Ark.-After a frustrating 6-19 season a year ago, U of O Head Coach Doug Boxell believes his team is prepared to make major strides in year three of his tenure.
Ozarks returns three starters - All-Conference forward Marcus Bobb, All-Freshman forward Kasey Lewis and point guard Jermery Victor - and welcomes the return of guard Colby Woolverton, who is back from an injury. But it is a trio of transfers that has Boxell thinking big. Transfers Ronnie Dodd, Scott Gregg and Carlton Gray provide the Eagles with much-needed size.
“I feel like we have more size,” said Boxell. “I felt like last year there were times we weren’t big enough. We have four good post players that can match up with anybody in our conference. I think on the inside and on the boards we will be much better. I think it will be tougher for people to get off shots.”
The 6-foot-4 Bobb transferred in last season and made a major impact. Bobb was named to the All-Conference Second Team after leading the league in field goal percentage (58.1%). He ranked eleventh in scoring (14.9) and seventh in rebounding (7.5). The junior posted six double-doubles and scored in double figures 19 times. Bobb was particularly strong down low late in the season as he led the team in scoring five of the last six games.
“Marcus gives us a great inside game,” said Boxell. “He is a strong, smart player that can get second shots. He has the ability to get the ball over bigger guys, but is a good outside shooter, too.”
Assisting Bobb inside are the 6-foot-6 Dodd, the 6-foot-5 Gregg, the 6-foot-5 Dylan Ballard and the 6-foot-3 Gray.
“Marcus is our five man,” said Boxell. “Ronnie will be at the four. We will post both of them up and we have to figure out ways for those guys to get touches. I believe our strength will be our post game.”
Boxell believes Dodd is a player that will impact the program immediately.
“Ronnie has unlimited ability,” said Boxell. “He is the type of kid that can get 25 points on any given night, but he can contribute to other players getting points, too. He can play about every position on the floor. He will be hard to handle by one player. He will likely require some double-teaming.”
Gregg played for Boxell in High School, but did not play college basketball last season. Gray, a junior, played at Parkland College last season. Ballard saw action in 25 games with one start.
“Scott has shown a nice physical presence inside,” said Boxell. “Carlton is a wide body who is strong. He can give us some inside help. With those five and Kasey, we won’t have any excuses in our match-ups.”
On the perimeter, Victor returns at the point guard position, with Woolverton, Lewis, David Robertson, Isaiah Boxell, Deon Pleasant, Charles Palmer and Andrew Cummings helping in the backcourt. Victor averaged 7.1 points and 2.0 assists per game. Woolverton, who is the team’s lone senior, was voted to the All-Freshman Team and averaged over 10 points per game as a sophomore. Lewis has been moved to the perimeter after posting impressive numbers as a freshman. The 6-foot-2 Lewis averaged 7.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Robertson started in four games and averaged 6.0 points per game while Boxell led the team in assists (3.8).
Sophomore Bryton Flint is a player that displayed flashes of potential in limited time last year, but is expected to expand his role this season.
“At the guard position, I feel like we have a lot of kids that can play,” said Boxell. “Jermery can make the tough plays and is a good shooter. I’m hoping Colby will pick up where Andre (Williams) left off scoring wise. He can be a consistent outside shooter. Kasey has a lot of athletic ability and uses it in the right way. He is a good defensive player. Isiaah has some experience, and Deon comes from a great high school program. Andrew is constantly out on the break and giving us the easy baskets. He is tough on defense and strong at driving to the basket. Charles is a slasher and gives us a lot of energy.”
Boxell is encouraged by the team’s consistency and mentality. He now has players beginning their third year in the system.
“We have some consistency from our returners,” said Boxell. “We have some kids that have been in the program. Mentally, our kids feel like we have a chance because of who we brought in. We still have to work awfully hard. And, if we get that sixth element of team camaraderie, and want to fight for each other, I feel like we have the talent and can do something special.”
Overall, the Eagles have nine lettermen back and over 50 percent of the team’s scoring returns. Boxell prefers a balanced offensive attack, one that comes from a number of players.
“I think we will be fine from the scoring standpoint,” said Boxell. “I would rather have several players who average nine or ten points because those are the toughest teams to beat. I hope it works out that way. We need to be the team that knows where to put the ball and who needs to get the ball. I hope we have the players that can score in crunch time. You have to have some wins to keep the guys believing.”
Offensively, the Eagles will look to play with more structure without sacrificing the option to freelance. On defense, the Eagles have focused on a sagging man-to-man style.
“In the past, I’ve always been a little more freelance,” said Boxell. “We are trying to add a little more structure, but we want our kids to understand they are not locked into that. We are working hard on a sagging man-to-man defense. Our kids have just got a taste in that. They understand we need to be in help position.”
Boxell has set lofty goals for the team, and hopes the team can raise expectations of themselves.
“This is a new year,” said Boxell. “We are not the same team as last year. There is no reason we shouldn’t be shooting for the conference championship. It is a mindset. Whenever you expect to do something, the chances of that happening are greater. We need to raise our expectations.”