As the late great Paul Newman said in the classic film, “Cool Hand Luke,” “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”
He was referring to his ability to bluff better than anyone else at the table in poker, but Weatherford College men’s basketball coach Mark Osina is hoping the same holds true for his roster.
The Coyotes have ample talent, but they returned no players from last season. Zero. Nada. Zip.
“It’s pretty common in junior college, and sometimes that’s a part of coaching,” Osina said. “If you’re the same player at the end of the year as the beginning, you didn’t improve and we give someone else a chance. No hard feelings. It’s just how it is.”
The Coyotes are coming off a 13-16 season that saw them miss the NJCAA Region V Tournament. And while they were strong at home (12-6), they struggled on the road (1-10).
“We have a chance to get a lot better. We’ve got enough depth,” Osina said. “And this group’s competitive and very attentive. We haven’t had one miss study hall or practice.
“We’ve got probably the best depth we’ve had in a long time, and our best shooting team in a long time.”
The roster has just four sophomores, all transfers. They are 6-foot-1-inch Jared Simmons (Newington, Connecticut), from West Georgia; 6-1 Erik Talton (Duncanville), Mountain View; 6-8 Fraser McDonald (Brisbane, Australia), Benedictine; and Marko Jovanovic (Belgrade, Serbia), Miami College in Florida.
“We’ve got some good transfers, and they’re working well with the freshmen,” Osina said. “They’ve got experience and we’re looking for leadership. It isn’t always how vocal you are; it’s how you play on the floor.”
Freshmen are 5-9 Javon Juarez (Fort Worth), 6-0 Matt Wages (Palestine), 6-0 Billy Hill (Fort Worth), 6-4 Grigorii Sibilev (Moscow, Russia); 6-2 Aaron Heft (Richardson), 6-7 Konnor Ross (Brisbane, Australia), 6-0 Noah Arrington (Granbury), 6-4 Deaken Stangl (Stevenson Ranch, California), 6-8 D’Michael Bellfield (Palestine), 6-0 Antron Washington (Chicago), 6-8 Troy Joseph (New Orleans), 6-9 Joshua Bridgewater (Trinidad and Tobago), and 6-8 Justin Hall (Mansfield).
Osina said Bridgewater and Hall are likely redshirts this season.
Osina said he recruited so many players because last season’s roster got thin during the season.
“Last year our roster dropped to eight or nine guys because of injuries, being homesick, grades,” he said. “But if it keeps going the way it has so far, next year we’ll have the most returners we’ve ever had.
“We don’t have any great players, but we have a lot of good players, and they play well together.”
Defense will be one of the Coyotes’ strengths this year, Osina said.
“Coach (Chris) Lewis has them playing about as good on defense as we’ve been in a long time,” Osina said.
“They’ve got the ability, but it’s more of a mindset,” Lewis said. “They took about five charges in one scrimmage, and that’s a lot.”
The Coyotes are hoping to surprise their conference mates. The league’s coaches have them picked seventh in the eight-team Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, ahead of Southwestern Christian. Ranger is the favorite, followed by McLennan, Temple, Collin, Hill and Grayson.
The top four finishers in the conference advance to the Region V Tournament.
But Osina encourages all players and coaches in the league to take no nights off.
“They’re all good enough,” he said. “When I look and see who won, it won’t surprise me. And I think we’ll be right in the middle of it. The potential is there.”
Osina said this season’s pre-conference play takes on even more importance because of the youth on his roster.
“It’s important to build confidence and be successful in non-conference,” he said. “The more we win early, the more it will help us when we get to conference.”