After three days of tryouts, the Junction City Blue Jays boys basketball team roster is mostly set. There will be an additional round of tryouts for the members of the football team looking to make their splash on the court when their season ends according to coach Nick Perez.
The team has some returning names fans will remember — Austin Smith, Chris Dixon, Seth Clark, Howard Johnson, Terrance Tedder — and a group of junior varsity and freshman players from last year who have worked their way to the varsity level.
“We kept about nine upperclassmen right now and about eight freshmen,” Perez said. “Chris Dixon, obviously everybody knows about him, good player, good senior. He had a good junior year, going into his senior year. Austin's blossomed into a very, very good point guard. Then you talk about our juniors — Howard and Seth. I think Howard's done a really good job of just developing his game defensively. Offensively, we know he can score. Defensively, he's gotten much better. Seth Clark, you know, I think can shoot it. We kept Ishmail Fadiga, he played last year on JV. We kept a kid named Ethan (Agudzi-Addo), Terrence Tedder, those guys.”
With talks of the Kansas State High School Activities Association postponing the start of the basketball season, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead for the team, Perez told the players they need to practice as if each time is a chance for a state title.
“Well for me, it's all about the kids,” he said. “It's frustrating for our kids — last year they canceled state. It's just hard for me to believe we can play a state championship game on November 30 and then the following Friday you can't play basketball. I know everybody's scared of COVID and all that good stuff, but just the message to the kids is you got to take advantage of your opportunities.
“Because, you don't know what's going to happen,” he added. “You don't know if you're going to get all the opportunities that you want. I know last year, there's a couple games we wish we had back, and we missed an opportunity. So, for us, it's going to be we got to treat every practice like it's our last one and move forward. Hopefully, we get the opportunity to play some games this year and opportunity to showcase our seniors but also our basketball team.”
When the team has the chance to hit the hardwood, they will look to improve on the 8-13 record from last season with a core group of experienced players. Something, Perez praised the boys who returned for.
“I think 8-13 was a little deceiving,” he said. “I think we had a chance to win about three more games, and we kind of let them slip. I think right away about the Highland Park game here. We had them and then, you know, we took a bad shot at the end. But we also snuck some games we probably shouldn't have won. We snuck the Washburn game that we played extremely well. If we played like that against a lot of teams, we probably would beat them by 15 or 20. But we just didn't piece it all together and I think for that it was a little bit of the youth. We had a bunch of sophomores out there and some juniors figuring out varsity time. So, I think, for us this year having those guys back for our leadership side of things is going to be great. But also, we know they can score.”
This year the Blue Jays are missing one element — height. But they look to make up for that lack of height with quickness and options at different locations on the court with play makers.
“We're all about 5'8" to six foot and I like our athleticism,” Perez said. “I like our quickness. I like our ability to play fast. So, we've got a couple big kids that are going to take some (playing) time. Chris Dixon is probably our tallest kid at 6'4", but he can also stretch [defenses] out because they got to guard him on the perimeter. But I really like where we're at as far as our little guys — trapping and moving in and half court trapping. I think for us, the key is going to be taking care of the basketball, and just bringing energy and effort every day.”
Looking at the team’s schedule, if they get all the games, there are games Perez said he would like to win. But he also said the Centennial League doesn’t look to be any easier this season.
“Obviously, we want to beat our rival — that's always up there,” Perez said. “But for me, I want us to get better every game. I don't necessarily pick a team, because our league is tough. It is the SEC of football leagues. There's not a day off. There's not a team that you can be like, 'Alright, we could look past them and focus on, you know, whoever.'
“But, if I could flip the script a little bit, I would say honestly, I'd like to have the Highland Park game at home,” he added. “We did go there and still won. I thought we played really, really well. But like I said, our league is tough. I just want to go in and get better every game and improve and give our guys the best chance to win and. And, I think, this year with the quality of kids we got as far as being in the weight program over the summer, being an off season this summer and working extremely hard I think we'll be alright.”
The Blue Jays are currently scheduled to open their 2020-21 season Friday, Dec. 4 at Topeka Seaman with the first home game the following Tuesday against Topeka High. Both games are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip off.