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Landers, Bulldogs more hopeful than 5th-place prediction

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun —

TYLER — Michael Landers is ready for Year 2 at Navarro, where he spent his first season watching his Bulldogs play tough every night.

“I was involved in more two possession games last year than I had been involved in the previous nine years I was at Trinity Valley,” said Landers as he stood at the podium Wednesday during the 17th annual Region XIV Conference Media Tipoff at Tyler Junior College.

Landers’ men’s basketball team went 21-11 in his first year and finished at 14-5 in the conference before losing in the first round of the XIV Tournament in a gut-wrenching defeat that saw Navarro build a 19-point only to lose at the end.

Now it’s time to start all over, and that message was delivered time and time again Wednesday as women’s and men’s coaches from around the conference talked about their teams and the upcoming season.

Landers has high hopes for the Bulldogs, but you have to catch him on the right day.

“There are days when I watch us practice that I feel we can win the league, and there are other days at practice when I don’t think we can win a conference game,” Landers said.

That’s October talking.

It’s a long stretch and no one knows that better than Landers, who saw his team get hot at the end of the regular season and then get upset in the tournament.

He has nine sophomores back who don’t want that to happen again, and a couple of transfer who could make an impact.

“I like our guys,” Landers said. “We’ve got a bunch of good guys. We lost some very good players. Hopefully, our sophomores who are returning will step up and fill that void.”

Chris Boleware, a 5-11 guard, and DaShawn Robinson, a 6-3 guard, both started last year and will be counted on to step up their game, and Landers likes what he has seen from transfer Wayne Martin, a 6-7 post who transferred from Brooklyn N. Y., and Byron Smith, a 6-7 freshman from Fort Worth and Cadel Williams, a 6-6 freshman from Longview.

Maika Ostling, a 6-10 sophomore from McMinnville, Oregon, transferred to Navarro last year but didn’t play, and Derrick Taylor, a 6-3 sophomore transfer from New Orleans, both have promise to be a big part of this year’s Navarro team.

Landers likes to spread the wealth and doesn’t like having to count on one player, so for him it’s all about finding the right pieces to a puzzle that he hopes will fit perfectly down the stretch and into the postseason.

“We have a lot of different guys who can play,” he said. “We want to get up and down the floor and be balanced. October is about trying to find your identity.”

Navarro opens on Nov. 1 at Tomball College, and plays its Region XIV opener on Nov. 22 at San Jacinto, which is picked in the preseason coaches poll as the No. 1 team in the South Zone.

Trinity Valley is the top pick in the East Zone, followed by Kilgore, Paris and Tyler. Navarro was the fifth pick in the poll. Panola (sixth) and Bossier (seventh) were picked to finish at the bottom of the East.

“Polls are polls,” Landers said. ”We (Navarro coaches) were talking and felt we cld have been picked anywhere from one to five, depending on what day it was.

“I’m excited. I think we have a chance (to win the region title),” he said. “The league is really deep and really good, but I like the pieces we have.

Wednesday, October 15 / Wagstaff Gym, Tyler, Tx

(First-place votes in parentheses. Bossier Parish did not vote.)

1. Trinity Valley (8)         84
2. Kilgore (2)                    71
3. Paris (3)                        69
4. Tyler                              53
5. Navarro                        45
6. Panola                          27
7. Bossier Parish             15

1. San Jacinto (8)          82
2. Lamar-PA (2)            73
3. Lee (2)                        71
4. Blinn (1)                     52
5. Angelina                     39
6. Jacksonville              33
7. Coastal Bend             14