It’s not a secret who’s the heart and soul of the Robert E. Lee boys basketball team.
The Red Raiders know it and their opponents know it.
Each game, Taylor Tankersley deals with two and sometimes three players shadowing him in a variety of zone, trapping and/or man-to-man schemes.
Through it all, the senior keeps churning out top performances and has his team on the precipice of reaching the playoffs for the first time in six years.
The Red Raiders (16-7, 3-2 in District 12-5A) close out the first half of league play today at home against North Mesquite (9-12, 2-3). Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Varsity Gymnasium.
“It’s been a pretty fun season because I don’t think I’ve ever been this deep in district and still having single-digits in the loss column,” said Tankersley, a three-year starter for the Red Raiders.
“We can hopefully (keep winning) to separate ourselves from (those other teams).”
Lee defeated Rockwall-Heath, 64-49, last Friday for its third league victory. Tankersley scored 18 points, pulled down 13 rebounds, dished out four steals and had three blocks.
It’s all in a night’s work for a player who in three years has started every game.
Admittedly, Tankersley said he is a much different player now than when he first broke through on varsity.
“No one really knew about me when I was a sophomore and my role mainly was just to stay out at the three-point line and shoot it,” Tankersley said.
Tankersley went on to receive Co-Newcomer of the Year honors for the district, averaging 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds with 42 steals and a team-leading 23 blocks.
Last season, teams began paying more attention to Tankersley.
“They all knew about me and I still didn’t have that much strength, so they kind of attacked me (to get me off my game),” Tankersley said.
Tankersley still led the Red Raiders in scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.8) while connecting on 34 3-pointers to earn first team all-district honors.
Colleges were beginning to take notice too, as evidenced by Tankersley saying he received an offer from Oral Roberts with other schools talking to him.
Entering the summer, Tankersley knew he had to get stronger, faster and be more proficient around the basket. An injury in the summer during AAU play halted all of that.
“I went up for a dunk on the baseline and when I jumped, the dude nudged me so they called a blocking foul,” Tankersley recounted. “When I was in the air, instead of just going ahead and dunking it and kind of hanging on the rim, I came down on a dude’s foot and I rolled my ankle and dislocated it.”
Tankersley said Oral Roberts stopped calling. His rehab took the rest of the summer and into the fall.
Thus far through 23 games, Tankersley is averaging 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. He’s also shooting 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I’ve developed a much better off-the-dribble jumper and I attack the hole a lot more,” said Tankersley, who added that his teammates are feeding off the success of other Lee sports teams.
The Lee boys soccer team hosted a regional quarterfinal playoff last year and Tankersley remembers he and several teammates watched the Red Raiders win and advance to the regional semifinals.
“That was probably one of the top (enjoyable) events we’ve been to while at Lee. The atmosphere was just great,” Tankersley said. “We’ve always heard about basketball playoff games and how the atmosphere is just crazy and electrified and we want to experience that.”
As for the future, Tankersley said he hasn’t been offered a scholarship.
“A lot of colleges have dropped off and right now with colleges in season and I am in season, I don’t hear much.” Tankersley said. “It will probably be toward the end of summer until I figure out what is going to happen.”
Lady Raiders aim to start second half of district with road win
Lee is within striking distance of fourth place and the final playoff spot. The Lady Raiders (12-15, 2-4 in District 12-5A) can tie Longview for fourth if they complete the home-and-home sweep of North Mesquite (6-18, 1-5).
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at North Mesquite High School.
The Lady Raiders defeated North Mesquite, 51-43, in the teams’ first meeting at REL Varsity Gym. Lee then dropped four games in a row before rebounding with a victory Friday at Rockwall-Heath.
North Mesquite is coming off a 67-43 loss to Rockwall-Heath on Tuesday.