By MATTHEW STEVENS
West Oktibbeha High School boys basketball coach Danny Crawford knows he may have an easy coaching job coming to him this winter.
Crawford has all his top returning scorers, the Starkville Daily News player of the year and a hungry squad that came up one win short of the state tournament.
“I feel real good about my team because when you have 11 guys coming back that was three points short of where we want to go then you know you have a strong group,” Crawford said.
Crawford returns the SDN player of the year in senior forward Kendrin Yates that was in the starting lineup for the Timberwolves summer league game Thursday at the Starkville Sportsplex against West Lowndes.
In a 2010-11 season where his team won 20 games and didn’t have a single senior, Crawford’s not trying to work on too many strategic aspects with his squad due to having experienced players that understand the pace he wants to play in his up-tempo system.
“That’s huge that my guys know what to do, been through it before and know the system in and out,” Crawford said.
That comfort provides a relief for Crawford as he will be taking over the West Oktibbeha girls basketball coach for the first time.
“I feel like right now I can put a lot of emphasis on the girls team,” Crawford said. “We play similar schedules so it shouldn’t be a big problem but it’ll be different to begin with.”
Two players that didn’t steal headlines last year have caught the eye of the Timberwolves head coach in senior guard Lavontis Smith and junior center Vasquez Clark.
Smith, who averaged 12.4 points per game, has become more of a dual-threat scorer this summer instead of merely the jump shooting threat he was in his junior season.
“He’s shooting the ball unbelievably this summer because now he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket,” Crawford said. “It just gives the defender more to worry about and now he’s able to get his own shot.”
Clark grabbed nearly eight rebounds a contest last season but could be an offensive inside presence if West Oktibbeha faces a half-court style opponent.
“If I can get him and couple other guys 8-10 points a game then we’ll be tough,” Crawford said. “I’m counting on them more now that they’re older.”