More aggressive and up-tempo play will set the tone for the Phoenix boys basketball team this season.
Head coach Kurt Russell said Oberlin coaches need players to be tougher this season.
“Tough doesn’t mean we are this bully,” he said. “It means we want to be tough mentally and physically.”
On defense, that means applying more pressure on the ball and cutting off passing lanes.
Russell believes the change in his team’s game can be accomplished this year because he has good, competitive players. Caleb Hughley, Zion Hicks, David Payne, and Donald Johnson are the four Russell is trusting to lead the team both on and off the court.
They have played on the varsity team since their freshmen year.
“They have really become great leaders for our team even in school,” Russell said. “They are taking more responsibilities, being in class on time and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
He said Oberlin has not had such a group of leaders in a long time.
The varsity squad was mostly sophomores last year and Russell thought the team played hard but was over-matched.
“I think this year we can be competitive,” Russell said. “There’s no more excuses about being young. It’s time for us to make some noise.”
Donald Johnson was Oberlin’s go-to man last year in the paint and that’s not going to change this year.
“Over the summer he put in the most work of all the players,” Russell said. “We’re expecting big things from Donald. He’s really improved.”
Russell believes Johnson having another year under his belt at the varsity level and being a year older will contribute to success for the Phoenix.
Four other players Russell expects to have a big impact on the team this year are Tre’Von Jackson, David Carter, Mark Robinson Jr., and Malik Aguiniga.
“I think (Aguiniga) can really add a lot to us this year in terms of his competitiveness and his size,” Russell said. “Defensively (Jackson) is a pest… (Carter) knows every single position on the court and is very mature,” he said. “(Robinson) will be a big help for us.”
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.
Photos by Valerie Urbanik | Oberlin News-Tribune
Que Freeman plants his feet and looks to the basket to finish a shot in practice.