By RANDY JENNINGS / Special Contributor
High school basketball careers ended for all five Plano West starters in a last-second Class 6A state championship game victory eight months ago.
Head coach Anthony Morgan realizes that as defending state champions, the Wolves will be a target for all their opponents, even with only one part-time starter returning.
"We know it will be a difficult task, but our guys take a lot of pride in defending the title,'' said Morgan, in his 10th season at Plano West. The previous nine have all resulted in playoff appearances.
"Looking back, we've been in the mix many times, losing out to the guys that won it all. I expect the state championship to run through the metroplex again this season.''
Plano West's part-time returning starter, 6-2 junior guard Chris Giles, is joined by four other varsity returnees, all seniors: forwards Christian Gans (6-5) and Emeka Obukwelu (6-7) and guards Michael McGraw (6-2) and Japheth Mengistu (6-2).
The addition of Soso Jamabo from the football team a year ago proved invaluable. Another footballer, Malik McLemore, is coming on board this season. A safety in football, the 6-3 senior will be a guard.
Although last season's stars have moved on, the coach is convinced they gifted those players that remain.
"These guys had the benefit of going against the best kids in the nation in practice every day last year,'' Morgan said.
Plano West is one of four area boys teams to navigate playoff minefields and reach the 2014-15 UIL state tournament in San Antonio. The others:
Lancaster: Three starters return from the team that won the Class 5A state title by beating Beaumont Ozen.
Title game MVP Elijah Thomas has moved on to Texas A&M, but coach Ferrin Douglas has 6-10 senior Nate Morris, an Ole Miss signee, groomed to maintain the Tigers' inside dominance. Morris last season averaged 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
With 6-5 swing man JaColby Pemberton, a Louisiana Tech pledge, and 5-10 guard Deon Barrett, a UTEP signee and all-tournament choice at state, Lancaster has the firepower to defend its title.
Irving MacArthur: The Cardinals caught fire in last season's playoffs, securing the first boys state basketball appearance in school history.
Coach Toby Martin returns three starters and arguably the team's best player a year ago, 6-4 guard Andrew Jones, who in the aftermath of an injury was coming off the bench during the playoff run.
The backcourt is in solid hands with not only Jones, but also returning starters Kennie Cooper (Sr., 5-10, G), Zay Booker (Jr., 5-8, G) and Robert Johnson (Jr., 5-10, G).
Eli Strange (Sr., 6-2, W) and Perrin Perkins (So., 6-5, F) are top newcomers.
Do the Cardinals have enough height to deal with taller foes? That is the question.
Madison: The task for coach Damon Barnett is to replace 32 points each game night this season. On the way to the Class 4A state semifinals, 6-4 guard Admon Gilder, now a freshman at Texas A&M, averaged 32 points per game.
Triple A Academy, which lost to Madison in a regional final, can identify, having seen a prolific scorer of its own graduate in King McClure, now at Baylor.
Do not shed tears for Madison just yet. Four starters return in a program that has made it to the state tournament for three straight seasons.
The Trojans have the outside covered with junior guards Desmond Scott and Patrick Terry. Heavier lifting will be done by junior center JeMichael Bowens and senior Ke'Tarrious Bouchum.
Nov. 16: First day of games
Dec. 28-30: 76th Dallas ISD/Coca-Cola Tournament
Feb. 20: UIL district certification
March 3-5: TAPPS state tournament
March 10-12: UIL state tournament
Other players to watch
PRESEASON ALL-AREA TEAM
Marques Bolden, DeSoto
Sr., 6-11, P
Notable: Pondering offers from Kansas, Kentucky and Duke among others, Bolden is the No. 16-ranked senior nationally by Rivals.com and No. 20 by ESPN.com. Averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a year ago.
Terrance Ferguson, Advanced Prep International
Sr., 6-6, G
Notable: The Alabama pledge, a three-time Team USA performer, will be surrounded by former Prime Prep teammates Mark Vital (Baylor signee) and Billy Preston as well as New Jersey transfer Trevon Duval and Philadelphia transfer Stevie Jordan.
Schnider Herard, Prestonwood
Sr., 6-10, C
Notable: The Mississippi State signee averaged 16 points and 10.5 rebounds in aiding the Lions' drive to the TAPPS Class 5A state title. The 240-pound Herard, a native of Haiti, is a space eater around the basket.
Andrew Jones, Irving MacArthur
Sr., 6-4, G
Notable: Led the Cardinals to their first state tournament final four in March. Missed part of the 2014-15 season with an injury. Scored a team-high 18 points in a state semifinal loss to eventual champion Plano West.
Cameron McGriff, South Grand Prairie
Sr., 6-7, F
Notable: The Oklahoma State signee sees his future at small forward and has worked on improving his 3-point shooting. He is ranked No. 10 in the state in the Class of 2016 by ESPN.com.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Coach: Jeff McCullough
2014-15 record: 28-10, Class 6A Region I finalist
Notable: Three of the Eagles' losses a year ago were to eventual 6A state champion Plano West, including in the Region I title game. A solid corps of returnees includes Ben Dixon III (6-3, Sr., G), Hans Burwitz (6-6, Sr., C) and Myles Nesbitt (6-6, Sr., SF/PF).
Coach: Brandon Thomas
2014-15 record: 28-4, Region I quarterfinalist
Notable: Returning backcourt starters Jonathan Webb and Russhard Cruickshank accounted for a combined average of 20 points and seven assists. First-team all-district G Leon Sneed, a transfer from DeSoto, further boosts the perimeter attack. Contributions of 6-10 junior Zach Simmons and 6-7 Lesley Varner may hold the key to the team's success.
Coach: Chris Dyer
2014-15 record: 29-5, Region I area finalist
Notable: With 6-11 C Marques Bolden patrolling the paint, the Eagles will have a dominating presence inside. Ball-handling duties fall on three-year starter Julian Miranda (5-9, Sr., PG). Other returnees are Brandon Butler (Jr., 5-8, PG), Chase Winchester (Sr., 5-11, W) and Brendon Rushing (Sr., 6-4, P).
Coach: Brad Waters
2014-15 record: 29-2, Class 5A Region II area finalist
Notable: Four starters return for the Hawks: G's Camron Talley (14.8 points, 4.7 assists), Tyler Zivney (10.0 points) and Kelden Pruitt (8.3 points, 5.6 rebounds) along with F Jeremiah Sandidge (12.3 points, 5.1 rebounds). Two 6-5 newcomers, senior Bailey West and sophomore Kolton Pruitt are ready to make contributions.
Coach: Patrick Washington
2014-15 record: 29-4, Class 5A Region II finalist
Notable: Cal Poly pledge Mark Crowe is a returning starter at wing along with opposite wing Mykeus Woods and F Donavhn Booker. PG Bryan Hall averaged 22 points and eight assists on the JV last season. Shakshi Davis and 6-6 post Jake Patin hope to build on JV success.