Montgomery got back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 in its return to Class 5A last winter.
A lopsided loss to College Station ended the celebration for the Bears in the first round of the postseason and sent them into the offseason motivated.
“It didn’t end quite like they wanted it to end, so there’s a little hunger there,” Montgomery coach Don Johnson said in a recent phone interview. “They’ve been working really hard.”
The Bears lost one first team all-county and all-District 20-5A player in Elijah Schleicher but bring another back in Tyler Elliott.
“In the offseason, you’ve got to develop your players,” Johnson, who is entering his 25th season leading the Bears, said. “We’re going to miss (Schleicher). He was a big-time player. We’re hoping a couple guys step up and fill his shoes. They’ve put the work in, but it don’t mean nothing when nobody’s in the gym watching you. You’ve got to perform in front of people in crowded gyms. We’ll see how that goes.”
Elliott, who averaged 15 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a junior, is expected to be a go-to guy for Montgomery as a senior.
“He’s back, bigger and better,” Johnson said. “We expect him to be better than he was last year. He’s probably — well there ain’t no probably to it — he’s our best two-way player. He plays on both ends of the floor and gives you everything he’s got. He’s really a very coachable kid and whatever you tell him to do, he just goes out and does it and never complains.”
Johnson also named a handful of other varsity returners: postman Trey Phillippi, point guard Jentry Hood, 3-point specialist Cade Tipton and forwards Keshon Hill and Isaac Lawson.
Hood impressed his coach over the offseason and is expected to lead after gaining another year of experience.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger and he’s put on about 10 pounds and his shot has been improved,” Johnson said. “He was always a fierce competitor. We’re glad we’ve got him back. It’s always good to have a point guard with experience.”
Junior Mateo Moreno and sophomore Brock Bolfing are also expected to play roles on the varsity team.
The Bears posted a 9-7 record in district play last year and finished fourth. Johnson hopes having players that have seen the competition once will help them move up in the standings.
“Last year for us, with the guys we had, it was a kind of innocent climb-type experience,” Johnson said. “You know, a cub climbing a tree for the first time. With that group, we had never done anything like that before. Now, they’ve experienced that and they’re hungry and so the expectation is to see if we can climb higher.”
A theme Johnson mentioned when talking about players was he wanted them to be ‘better than last year.’ The same theme applies to the team as a whole as the new season approaches.
“We want to do better than we did last year and we’re tying to push each player to be their personal best,” he said. “We feel like if they do that, our team is going to be much improved than it was last year.”