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ETSN.fm 2013-14 Boys Basketball Preview: Can East Texas Follow Up On Success of Last Season?

White Oak’s Hayden Nichols lifts the Class 2A Region III championship trophy after the Roughnecks’ 66-47 win over Tatum last March at SFA’s William R. Johnson Coliseum in Nacogdoches. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

No matter how you slice it, East Texas had a banner year in boys basketball last season, and in particular at the Class 2A and 1A levels.

The region produced three state tournament entrants, two of which made it to the state final, including White Oak, which won its second consecutive Class 2A title on a shot by guard Kris Anderson in the closing seconds.

Tatum’s Robbie Rockwell (15) handles the ball against Jarrell’s Landon Ledbetter (4) during Tatum’s 61-44 Class 2A Region III semifinal win last March in Nacogdoches. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

But even a week before the state tournament began, we knew there would be three teams make it to Austin, as there were three regional finals pitting East Texas vs. East Texas.

The aforementioned Roughnecks defeated District 17-2A rival Tatum — for the third time on the year — in the 2A Region III final in front of a raucous environment at Stephen F. Austin’s Johnson Coliseum.

San Augustine collected its trip to state by overcoming favored Grapeland in the 1A Division I Region III championship at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gynmasium. And Douglass, behind brothers Reed and Bryce Westbrook, bested district rival Oakwood — led by future Baylor commit Damiyne Durham — in the 1A D-II Region IV final all the way down in New Braunfels.

The small-school dominance in East Texas appears to be carrying over into the 2013-14 season. In Class 2A, three teams — No. 5 Tatum, No. 18 White Oak and No. 21 Crockett — represent the region in the preseason Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll.

Grapeland’s Jacolby Simpson (1) looks over the defense during the Sandies’ win over Dallardsville Big Sandy last March in their Class A Division I regional semifinal victory in Tyler. (Noreen Nartia, ETSN.fm)

Another 11 are ranked in 1A — Grapeland (No. 2), Tenaha (6), San Augustine (9), LaPoynor (13), West Sabine (17) and Martin’s Mill (21) in Division I and Oakwood (2), Laneville (8), Douglass (11), Avinger (23) and Saltillo (24) in Division II.

In the upper classifications, more progress is hoping to be made after just four East Texas teams — Lufkin, Pleasant Grove, Liberty-Eylau and Kilgore — advanced beyond the second round in 5A-3A.

Lufkin must replace all-region guard Dominique Shaw, while Pleasant Grove will be without Colorado signee Dustin Thomas.

Kilgore returns the bulk of its roster, including the trio of Xaviar Gaona, Nick Orange and Kevrin Justice, and could be a darkhorse out of Region II in 3A. L-E, which eliminated Kilgore with an overtime victory in last year’s regional quarterfinals, brings back a solid nucleus of its own in Kwan Curry, Rashaan Donelson and Davion Hall.

In District 12-5A, head coach Billy Goffney will hope to lead a returning crop that includes 6-5 post Jordan Whitaker on a run to the district title after the Lobos finished as runners-up to Mesquite last year.

In Class 4A, an interesting battle may shape up between last season’s top three teams in 16-4A — Jacksonville, John Tyler and Whitehouse.

Jacksonville began the season 32-0 before a loss to JT in the regular-season finale and a second-round playoff loss. The Indians not only lost their three senior stars — D.D. Franklin, Londedric Taylor and Kadarius Buckingham — but also their head coach Brent Kelley, who went to Whitehouse.

Speaking of Whitehouse, which finished third in 16-4A a season ago, Kelley will have plenty of senior leadership at his disposal with the return of Patrick Mahomes, Jake Parker and Spencer Shaw. John Tyler coach Cedeno Clark lost Tyus Bowser (now at Houston) among others, but does retain the services of guards Isaac Warren and Jordan Caldwell and forward Rodney Bendy.

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