In the case of Oxford’s boys basketball team, “next class up” seems to be more fitting.
After losing 10 seniors from the last season’s team that went 23-8 and advance to the Class 6A sub-regionals, the current Yellow Jackets squad enters the season with seven seniors.
So, Oxford is in the middle of a youth movement without a main ingredient — youth.
“We have some older guys who haven’t played in the past couple of years,” said head coach Joel Van Meter, whose team opens its season at home tonight against Hoover. “It will be a different year, but hopefully we can be who we usually are.”
One familiar face will be there to make sure of that. Senior guard Deon Wright is returning, and looking to make a bigger impact this year. He is the most experienced varsity player on the roster after playing “a ton of minutes” last season, according to Van Meter.
Van Meter is looking for Wright to step up and fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Justin Lawler.
“I’ve been waiting on it,” Wright said. “I had to sit back last year. Justin Lawler, Logan Craft, Keith Wilson — we’d all been playing together since we were real young. We knew everything everybody was going to do. This year is a little bit different. You’ve got to understand how you’re going to play with people.”
Van Meter said the season will be a challenge for Wright.
“It’s going to be different because he’s got a completely different role,” Van Meter said. “Last year, if he came in and didn’t play real well, we could just go to somebody else. This year, if he doesn’t play well, we could be in trouble. There’s a little more weight on his shoulders, but I think he’s ready for it.”
While the boys team is dealing with losing an entire starting lineup, the Yellow Jackets are preparing to start the season after only losing one senior from last season’s team, which finished 11-16 and reached the 6A sub-regional round.
“We have a lot of experience,” head coach Tonya Peoples said. “We have eight seniors. This is just my third year. We came in together. My first year was their first year in the varsity program.”
The Yellow Jackets may have lost only one player, but the one they lost played a major role.
“Jasmine Carter was the most athletic player we had — a lot of energy to go with it,” Peoples said. “She will be missed. We’re going to have to have some kids step up. We haven’t even played a game, and I’ve talked to them about it. We’re going to have to have kids step up and score for us, and I feel OK about that.”
One of the reasons Peoples can feel OK about that is Deanna Clark. The senior shooting guard is set to lead the team. If anyone has the same expectations of the team as Peoples, it’s Clark.
“We only lost one person,” Clark said. “We expect everybody else to step up and do what they’ve got to do and hopefully make it to state. I think we’ve got a chance.”
With all of the experience returning, the Yellow Jackets will not have to change their strategy much. Their aggressive style of defense will make its return.
“Our offense is our defense,” Peoples said. “We need turnovers. I think they feel more comfortable in an open floor game with putting pressure on people, steals, layups, easy shots than a slow game.”