Jaleel 2 v San Jac_crop

‘Dogs surge as stretch run against East Zone starts

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun

Everybody has a plan.

Michael Landers has one that’s working.

Don’t look now, but Navarro’s Bulldogs are hot, real hot, and that’s just fine with Landers, who wants to see the temperature rise as the season heads into its stretch run.

That was his plan all along.

“We talked about this before the season started and how we wanted to peak at the end of the season,’’ said Landers, who is in his first year at Navarro. “And we are on the right path. We’re getting better every week. The last six weeks we’ve gotten a lot better, and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to peaking.’’

Navarro has won six of its last seven games and has climbed up the charts in the Region XIV race, where the Bulldogs are 6-2 and in the thick of the hunt in the East, where Trinity Valley is 7-1 and Kilgore and Paris are 6-1.

There are seven teams in the Region XIV East and seven in the Region XIV South. The top 12 of the 14 teams advance to the postseason, and Landers feels his team might win the East.

“All four of the teams (TVCC. Kilgore, Paris, Navarro) are capable of winning the regular season title,’’ he said. “It’s going to be a battle every night.’’

The Bulldogs (13-6, 6-2) have 11 games left, including six against the other three contenders with home and away games against TVCC, Kilgore and Paris. They play at Paris at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We’ve got 11 games and six against those teams,’’ Landers said. “Which-ever team is the toughest will win it. You have to bring it every night.’’

That’s what Landers likes about his team.

“Our guys are getting tough. There’s no question about that,’’ Landers said. “We struggled early with the kids getting acclimated to a new system and me getting used to them. And we played a tough schedule. I think that’s helped. I think we reaped the rewards from playing a tough preseason schedule to get us ready for the conference.’’

Landers preaches about having everyone involved and not having a superstar player, because, he says, it’s harder for teams to prepare for you and players don’t have to count on one guy.

“That was the plan all along. We want to be balanced,’’ he said. “I think our guys are buying into what we’re telling them and believing they can be as good as we tell them they can be. We are playing harder and guys are playing their roles and we are establishing an identity.’’

Landers said one of the big differences has been the inside play of Troy Jones and Jaleel Cousins along with the play at point guard, where Chris Boleware and Shannon Lilly have emerged as a two-headed force.

“Our identity is that we have become a very physical offensive team,’’ Landers said. “You hear about teams being a physical defensive team, and we are physical on offense. Troy and Jaleel have been very difficult to guard on the low block and we have become better inside.

“We make a conscious effort to get the ball to them. We’ve got good players on the wing but our play at the point has really been good with Shannon and Chris at the 1 spot. The numbers they have been putting up in the last six, seven games — they have been knocking down shots and handling the ball. Both have done a good job at the 1 spot.’’

Toney Foster, who led Navarro in scoring a year ago with a 9.8 average, leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.8 points a night. Jones (10.3), Jamar Goodwin (9.7) and Cousins (8.0) are close behind. Lilly and Boleware have combined to make 45 3-pointers and Lilly (6.7 ppg) and Boleware (5.7 ppg) are both averaging about three assists a game.

There’s balance all over the floor, but what pleases Landers even more is the way the whole team has collectively stepped up as of late.

“Coach told us we needed to step up during this (stretch) when the new year started and we started playing all these region games,’’ said Foster, who also believes the Bulldogs are getting better from night to night. “We have to bring our game every night.’’

They have, and now the question is will the Dogs keep rising.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,’’ Landers said. “I like this team and where we are. We’ve put ourselves in a position to do some really good things the next six to eight weeks.’’