College Park coach Clifton McNeely had to restock his roster after losing five senior starters from the 2017-18 team. That led to an inexperienced yet talented group playing significant minutes for the Cavaliers last season.

This time around, the program is looking to take the next step and get back into the playoffs. College Park went 16-18 overall last winter and finished at 8-8 in district play, narrowly missing the postseason. McNeely is confident the learning curves his players experience last year will pay dividends.

“We’re excited about this group,” McNeely said. “We only graduated four players, and we have eight returning players. We’re still a very young basketball team. Last year we played with a lot freshmen and sophomores, and this year we’ll play with a lot of sophomores and juniors. But they’ve got talent, and they have great chemistry. What we lack in size, they make up for in tenacity and effort. I’m really enjoying working with this group.”

McNeely is particularly excited about sophomore guard Ty Buckmon, who was selected as the District 15-6A Newcomer of the Year after averaging 6.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season.

“We have great expectations for him,” McNeely said.

Junior guard Drew Calderon (5.3 points per game), sophomore guard Nate Murphy (3.9), junior wing Sean Snyder (3.1) and junior Markel James are also expected to step into bigger roles.

Sophomore Khi Watkins, who is the top returning scorer at 6.9 points per game, underwent knee surgery shortly after last season ended and was just recently cleared to go at 100 percent. Also coming back from injury is 6-foot-5 senior Tanner Perry, who is expected to be cleared soon as well.

“We’ve got 10 or 11 guys that are going to be able to step up and play,” McNeely said. “Last year we discovered late in the year when we suffered some injuries down the stretch that you never can have enough players as our district battles wage on. But it’s a big plus. We’re all guards, realistically. ... We’re going to have to play small ball, and when you do that, you have to force the tempo a little bit, and depth becomes extremely important.”

While College Park has its sights set on a return to the playoffs, the road to get there will not be easy. The Cavaliers will have to contend with No. 24 state-ranked Klein Forest, Klein, Klein Oak, Klein Cain, Klein Collins, The Woodlands, Conroe and Oak Ridge for one our four spots in the postseason.

“Our mantra this year has really been to focus on ourselves,” McNeely said. “We know that Klein Forest is always going to be state-ranked, The Woodlands has always got all kinds of talent over there, and our district is very formidable. Klein Cain just showed in football with the addition of their senior class now that they have the depth to compete at any level. Klein is loaded with probably the most talent coming back. It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out, but for me, it’s too early to tell you what to expect from anybody else.”

College Park will open the season at 5 p.m. Friday at home against Stratford. The Cavaliers’ first district game will be Dec. 13 at Klein Collins.

jpoorman@hcnonline.com

Original Article from: https://www.yourconroenews.com/neighborhood/moco/sports/article/BOYS-HOOPS-College-Park-returns-young-talented-14830113.php