VERSATILE AND TALENTED
Runnin’ Bulldogs could be Estelle’s most talent-laden team
BY TODD WILLS
Corsicana Sun Sports Editor
College basketball fans know the trend these days is to versatile players with long wingspans who can play multiple positions.
If you’re a Navarro basketball fan, you’ll be happy to know that Runnin’ Bulldogs coach Johnny Estelle and his staff have their roster filled with players that fit that bill.
In all, 9 of the 15 players on the Navarro roster check in between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-7. Some of them will be on display Thursday night when the Runnin’ Bulldogs open their season at 7 p.m. against Tomball College at the Wolens Special Events Center.
Estelle, who juggles his lineup like Elizabeth Taylor did husbands, looks for defense and rebounding first. But he also hopes to find a scorer or two among the group, especially after Navarro was reminded of what a difference a one-man show can be after Northwest Florida’s Chris Jones went nuts against the Bulldogs at last year’s national tournament.
Navarro has had guys develop into that role, from DeAndre Brown (Louisiana Tech) to Matt Pressey (Missouri).
“That guy has to be developed into that role,” Estelle said. “We have a couple of candidates who can be that guy, but it has to come with mental toughness and the willingness to be a leader.”
One of Navarro’s wing players, 6-5 sophomore Princeton Onwas, could be a scorer for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. A “scorer” in basketball terms is a player who can get to the rim, has a mid-range game, can hit the 3-pointer and get to the free throw line. Onwas showed flashes of that last season, scoring 9 points per game.
“Prince can get to the basket when he wants to,” Estelle said. “He has to learn when to do that and when to shoot.”
Estelle also recruits winners, and he has a few of those too. Freshman guard Shannon Lilly won state titles at Dallas Kimball. Duan Wright, a 6-4 freshman from Alexandria, La. played on a state championship team.
Another freshman, 6-1 Micah Cooper from Duncanville, can be a zone buster from behind the 3-point line. Toney Foster, a 6-3 freshman from Monroe, La., has a ton of potential.
Two players that are back in the Navarro program after a year off, 6-6 forward Lamark Barnes and 6-1 guard David Woodard, add to the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ depth. There’s also 6-7 Hill College transfer Justin Phillipe.
And then there’s 6-10 freshman Jaleel Cousins from Mobile, Ala. He’s easily the most intriguing Bulldog and the player opposing coaches ask about during interviews. Cousin, whose brother DeMarcus starred at Kentucky and who now plays for the Sacramento Kings, is a developing player who could turn into a star.
“He’s coming along,” Estelle said. “He’s learning. I don’t think he has an idea of how good he can be. When the light bulb comes on, he’ll be pretty exciting. There’s not a lot of guys around that are like him.”
Navarro had just one player on last year’s team that had played for Estelle the season before — Hyjii Thomas — and he fought through injuries to contribute to last year’s Region XIV champions.
This year’s team has four returnees — Onwas, who brings consistency; 6-6 forward Terrance Syon, who can play inside and outside; 5-10 point guard Harrison Hawkins, a reserve last season; and 6-2 point guard Jonathan Benn, who played his best games of the season in the regional tournament.
Those players don’t have to learn as much. The rest? They have to learn and prove to Estelle they have a commitment at both ends of the floor.
That’s been the trademark to three teams Estelle has guided to the national tournament the last four years.
“It’s a learning curve,” Estelle said. “We have three guys that played last year. A couple of guys that played a while back. I feel good about them. It’s really early. It’s good kids trying to work at it.”