Robert E. Lee boys basketball begins its season Tuesday with an opener unlike any other in recent memory.
All thanks to a change in its schedule.
The Red Raiders will go on the road to face Hallsville at 7 p.m. at Bobcat Gymnasium. It marks the first time Robert E. Lee and Pine Tree have not opened the season against one another for nearly two decades.
“I think you can go back generations with this Pine Tree deal,” said Lee coach Alan Johnston. “It used to be a private joke around East Texas that you don’t call Pine Tree (to schedule) because they play Lee their first game.
“Rick Dowdle does a great job there, but we had a conversation last year that it was time to go a different direction and he was good with it and so was I.”
Lee hopes its season ends in a different direction as well. The Red Raiders have been home for the playoffs the past five years with district wins hard to come by. Lee went 17-14 last season and 2-8 in district.
REL wants to stay on the path to the postseason and a potential district championship, but it will need senior Taylor Tankersley to lead the way. A three-year starter, Tankersley averaged just over 15 points and seven rebounds per game last season, connecting on 38 3-pointers.
“I’ve never been this close to a team before,” said Tankersley, who wears No. 23. “We’ve played together since Little Dribblers and we have good team chemistry.”
Tankersley is just now back to game shape after he missed many months with a dislocated ankle.
“Over the summer I had a freak injury, so I spent it doing rehab, but right now I am shooting the ball better than ever,” Tankersley said. “I feel like my teammates are doing a good job of getting me open and also filling in buckets as well, so it’s looking good.”
Johnston said the “team concept” will be important for Lee offensively this year because Tankersley will face double teams every night.
“Taylor has the green light, but at the same breath, everyone we play against knows that they better contain No. 23,” Johnston said. “We are going to have to have some of those other guys step up and take up some of the scoring responsibility that we graduated.”
The Red Raiders’ second and third-leading scorers, Jarrod Coleman and Evan Tomlinson, are enjoying college right now.
“That’s 40 percent of our points per game practically and when you add Coleman, who was our point guard and the assists and points combined, that’s (nearly half) of our offense and that can’t just (be made up) by Taylor Tankersley.”
Jack Calhoun moves into the point guard position after the junior played on JV last season. At shooting guard will be senior returner Tucker Boyd, who gave a glimpse of what he could provide in last season’s finale when Boyd scored double figures in a win over North Mesquite. At post is returning senior Will Dougherty with Tankersley and junior Caleb Johnston manning the small forward and power forward spots.
“Jack has come a long way and would probably be best served playing shooting guard because he can shoot the ball, but he’s done an admirable job and did not have a single turnover in our scrimmage,” Johnston said. “Darriun Smallwood and Austin Fleet will play some point guard as well.”
Johnston said Boyd was mainly used for his defensive prowess last season, but this year will be able to provide a scoring lift. Fellow senior Luke Derfus will also play shooting guard. Johnston said he will be able to interchange 6-4 Caleb Johnston and 6-6 Tankersley to pose matchup problems.
“Will Dougherty will anchor it all in the (paint),” Coach Johnston said. “He’s only 6-2, but strong and he’s deceivingly athletic with Justin DeSalvo and Jared Williams backing him up.
“We’ve got 15 kids and any given night one of them could (go off) for us.”
Robert E. Lee Red Raiders
Head Coach: Alan Johnston
2011-12 record: 17-15 (2-8 in district)
Last Playoff appearance: 2007 (lost in area to Richardson Berkner)
Returning starters: 3
Statistical leaders: F Taylor Tankersley (15.6 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, 38 3-pointers), G Tucker Boyd (5.0 points per game), P Will Dougherty (4.8 points per game).
Starting 5: PG 1 Jack Calhoun (6-0, Sr.), SG 34 Tucker Boyd (6-2, Sr.), SF 23 Taylor Tankersley (6-6, Sr.), PF 33 Caleb Johnston (6-4, Jr.), P 32 Will Dougherty (6-2, Sr.).
What’s New: Joe Crawford joins the staff as assistant coach following the departure of Johnston’s longtime assistant Danny Russell (head coach at Katy). Crawford was head coach at Grace Community last season. “Joe has 33 years in coaching and has been in East Texas for several years. He knows the game and is a great addition to our program,” Johnston said.
Offensive outlook: The offense begins with Taylor Tankersley, but Johnston believes it will be a well-balanced attack that powers REL to victories this season.
Defensive outlook: For the most part, REL held the opposition down last season and will look to be stingy again in 2012-13. Lee switches between man to man and zone defense, but while other teams rely on full-court pressure, REL likes to do its work in the half court.
Team strengths: The Red Raiders have several good 3-point shooters, led by Tankersley. Lee made 126 3’s last season (nearly four per game) and will look to do that even more to make up for its size disadvantage.
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 13 at Hallsville 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 Lufkin 1:15 p.m.
Nov. 23-24 #Burger King Classic TBA
Nov. 27 $John Tyler 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 29-Dec. 1 Lindale Hoop Heaven TBA
Dec. 4 at Jacksonville 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7-8 Lufkin Tournament TBA
Dec. 11 Nacogdoches 7 p.m.
Dec. 18 at Whitehouse 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 *Rockwall 7 p.m.
Dec. 28-29 The Colony Tournament TBA
Jan. 2 * at Mesquite 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 5 *Longview 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 8 * at Mesquite Horn 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 *Rockwall-Heath 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 *North Mesquite 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 *at Rockwall 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 *Mesquite 7 p.m.
Jan. 29 *at Longview 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 *Mesquite Horn 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 *at Rockwall-Heath 7 p.m.
Feb. 12 *at North Mesquite 7 p.m.
# — Burger King Classic at UT Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center
$ — Wagstaff Gymnasium, Tyler Junior College
* — District 12-5A game