CARTHAGE – The Carthage Bulldogs basketball team – winners of three back-to-back district titles – didn’t expect their season to start as early as it did.
Namely because the whole squad is made up of soccer players from a team that was ranked No.1 all season and aimed to win a third consecutive Class 4A Division II title.
“I don’t think any of us were ready for the season to start this early,” Carthage coach Charlie Tucker said. “We didn’t think it would end. Fortunately, we had all the equipment in it.
Tucker, who is also the soccer team’s assistant coach, had quite a job to do once the soccer season ended abruptly with a 27-17 loss to China Spring which ended the active victory of Carthage at the time. streak of 43 consecutive games.
Not just to try to focus your team on basketball, but also to set up the equipment and also to try to put together a makeshift schedule.
Originally, the Bulldogs didn’t have a game scheduled until Dec. 31 against Henderson.
“All of these guys play soccer, and the thrill of that loss, it takes a while to go from soccer to basketball,” Tucker said. “So far they are working hard and trying to improve.”
Tucker managed to string together a few games, including Tenaha and Tatum as well as a December 14 home game against Avinger.
“The problem was, I didn’t have any games scheduled because the teams wouldn’t schedule me until the Christmas break,” Tucker said. “They know they’re probably going to have to cancel and I understand that. I didn’t have any games planned and I was really lucky to have those games because everyone’s schedule has already been set.
Unlike in previous years, where from the end of the football season, Tucker could resume things like the previous season, this season is a little different.
Reigning District MVP Montrel Hatten returns, but other than seniors Anthony Riggans and Freddy Lynch, the Bulldogs have no other player with college experience.
“This group only has three guys with college experience,” Tucker said. “The other guys, there is a speed difference at all levels. When you step onto the field for college, things happen faster. So far I’ve been disappointed with our lack of tenacity, I feel like so far in our first two games the other team has been more physical than us.
Carthage will be deprived of swingman Will McDaniel, injured in the leg. Tucker says McDaniel could return for three to six weeks.
Hatten faced a constant regime of doubles teams against Tatum and will likely see more of them as the season progresses.
“Montrel is the district’s MVP last season and the teams are going to start taking him out,” Tucker said. “It will be double and triple, especially once the district starts. Guys are going to have to step up. In the past I have had a veteran team where we could come on day one and lead our offense, press and defense.
“Even though these guys did it at the younger level, in college, it’s just different. It takes me a while to figure out to get the chemistry and the spin. This is another difficult part coming from football.
Tucker expects Center, Hudson and Palestine to give the Bulldogs a run for the district crown.
The veteran coach understands that it will likely be until after the Christmas holidays for the team to really get back into basketball shape.
This year’s Bulldogs squad will consist of eight juniors and five seniors.
Once the District play arrives, Tucker doesn’t lower his expectations for a rather inexperienced team.
“We’re proud of the program we’ve built here because we’ve been successful,” Tucker said. “When you take a team that is not very experienced and I don’t believe in moral wins, but Tatum played in the state championship game last year and they have that pedigree. only had a chance to win it, we should have won it.
“In the end, we didn’t play basketball very smartly and that comes from inexperience. I want to win every time we step on the field, I want to win every time I play cards, so I don’t like to win moral victories.
When it comes to guys who he thinks can make an impact, Tucker didn’t want to specify any particular player.
This season more than others is a work in progress, even with Hatten and Riggans in the lead.
“Right now I need a little more time,” Tucker said. “My experience as a basketball coach here is that one night it could be this guy and the next night it could be another guy. It’s about finding a warm hand.
The Bulldogs have the athletes to compete; it’s all about getting their legs under them and seeing if they can accommodate the plans of Tucker and his staff.
Carthage will be a different team once the District game begins on January 14 against Jasper. The loss of season-ending football will be old news, and this group full of talented football players will be basketball players.
“We had a pretty good race here,” said Tucker. “My expectation is to win the district, I don’t think I can lower that.”