Most people involved with the McDowell High basketball program think the Titans can be pretty good this season.
But first, the team’s coach warns, the Titans have to figure out just exactly who they are.
“Each year, it’s a new team, even if you don’t lose but one or two players,” said seventh-year head coach Brian Franklin. “The dynamic is always different, so we’re trying to figure out where we’re at as a team.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out where last year’s team was – all you had to do was look at the top of the conference standings and the state 4A rankings. The Titans went 25-3 overall and 14-0 against conference competition in their final season as part of the Mountain Athletic 4A/3A.
McDowell returns four of the top seven players from that squad, but lost some key pieces to the puzzle with the graduation of all-conference performers Tanner Dillingham and Divese Carson, as well as honorable-mention all-conference Cannon Lamb.
The veterans helped lead the Titans to their eighth regular-season championship in the last 11 seasons and their 10th conference tournament title in the last dozen years. McDowell’s State 4A Playoff appearance was its 30th in the last 32 years.
The senior quartet of point guard Kevin Silver, guards Skyler McKinney and Antoine Lindsey and post Travis Corpening returns, however, forming a solid nucleus around which to build.
“The world is going to be different without Tanner and Cannon and Divese,” said Franklin, who was named MAC Coach of the Year in 2016-17. “That leaves a big void, especially on the rebounding side.
“Every team is different. The bad news is we lost some really good players. The good news is we’ve got a number of guys coming back who started for us or played starters’ minutes. Skyler, Kevin, Antoine and Travis were four really important parts of that team last year.”
They certainly were.
McKinney, who has grown to 6-foot-5 in the offseason, stuffed a number of stat sheets on his way to all-conference honors. McKinney averaged 13.3 points per game, third on the team behind Carson and Dillingham. He led the Titans in rebounding (9.1 rpg), assists (3.9 apg) and steals (2.0 spg), while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 69.3 percent from the line.
The senior wing is the team’s tallest player, and his rebounding ability – exceptional for a perimeter player – will be vital to the Titans’ success. Franklin said there would also be an emphasis on getting the ball to McKinney down low, as well as using screens to allow him to penetrate the lane and finish at the rim.
Silver, a 5-foot-11 point guard, got better as the 2016-17 season wore on, and was a primary scoring threat down the stretch for the Titans. Silver, who was an honorable-mention all-conference selection, averaged 9.3 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He went 53-of-131 on 3-pointers (40.5 percent) and was one of the club’s most consistent perimeter threats. Silver also shot a team-best 84.6 percent from the line.
Franklin said Silver will still play plenty at the point guard spot, but will also slide to 2 occasionally so the Titans can take advantage of his shooting ability from the wing.
Lindsey, a 5-foot-7 sparkplug of a guard, averaged 8.3 points and 2.5 assists per contest, and led a team full of shooters at 41.9 percent (54-of-129) from downtown. Lindsey’s remarkable shooting range belies his short stature; many of his 3s were from NBA-range and well beyond.
Franklin said he’s looking for some help in the rebounding department from both Silver and Lindsey, and added both are capable of snagging three to four boards a night.
Those contributions will be vital for a squad that is unquestionably lacking in the height department.
“We talked about our team before we even shot the first layup in practice,” said Franklin. “We talked about the fact we’ve got to be really good defensively. We’ve got to be able to guard people and keep people in front of us. Secondly, are we going to be able to rebound the ball? Top to bottom, this might be the smallest team McDowell High School has ever had. That concerns you, but rebounding is not just about size; it’s about effort and getting great position.
“In the past, we wanted to out-rebound the other team. With this team, if we can keep the rebound margin even and take care of the ball, we have a great chance to be successful, because of the way we shoot it and how well we do some of the other things.”
Corpening, a solidly built 6-foot-2 post, is the Titans’ only traditional post player, and will have to be even stronger on the low blocks than he was last year when he averaged 6.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest while shooting a solid 52.6 percent from the floor.
Corpening played taller than 6-foot-2 all last season, and will need to do so again. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem; Corpening utilizes his strength to get position and then finishes with polished post moves.
“We’ve still got to penetrate and be strong and get to the basket, and we have to utilize Travis as much as we can,” said Franklin. “He’s our only back-to-the-basket post player, and we’ve got to get the ball to him and let him go to work.”
As for team strengths, guard play ranks right at the top.
“One of our biggest strengths is we’ve got a team that can really shoot the ball, especially from the perimeter,” said Franklin. “We’ve got a team that handles the ball well and can make some plays in the open court. I think we’re going to be hard to pressure full-court, which has not always been the case over the last four or five years. I think we’ll be able to get out in the open court and run. It’s going to be a different style than what people are used to seeing in a McDowell team.”
No other returners saw meaningful minutes last year, but several of them are poised to do so this season.
Senior forward Caden Davis averaged 2.5 per game as a junior, but his offseason work ethic has him primed to greatly increase that number. The rugged, 6-foot-2 Davis could especially help on the backboards, and Franklin is hoping he can step into the role occupied by Lamb last season.
Senior guards Jordan Kehler, Nick Grande and Cole England should also get the chance at significant playing time. All were on the varsity squad last year, and Franklin said they’ve all improved substantially.
“Those seniors are gym rats; they love to play basketball,” said Franklin. “I had to shut them down the week before try-outs from playing in the Y league and other things because I didn’t want them getting hurt. That’s the reason they’re good players – they play all the time. I love that about those seniors.”
There’s also a solid crop of juniors who formed the nucleus of last year’s outstanding 18-2 jayvee team.
Guard Dylan McRary is a pure scorer and an impressive shooter from deep. He led the jayvees in scoring last year and had a high game of 35. Point guard J.C. Olivo is excellent in transition, and guard Ian Elliott stands out as a spot-up shooter.
Forwards Adam Randolph and twin brother Andruw, along with Trenton Gragg, provide a shot of athleticism and all excel in the open court. Meanwhile, post Andrew Davis, though undersized at 6-feet, brings a football mentality to the table. Davis led the Titans football team in tackles with 100 from his inside linebacker position.
It all adds up to a potentially solid squad, with quality depth all the way down the bench. That’s a good thing; the Titans are now in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, a much better hoops league than the football-centric MAC.
Franklin said he’s ready for the journey to begin.
“I like the group we have. They’re great kids,” he said. “They’ve been fun to be around and fun to work with. They’re very coachable and that’s always the No. 1 thing. Now, let’s figure out who we are as a team and make sure we understand what’s important about our team.”
McDowell head coach Brian Franklin talks about the Titans:
10 – Dylan McRary, Jr., G, 5-11 – “Dylan is coming off a great year on the jayvee team. I have been very impressed with the way he has played in practice. I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a skilled player who can really shoot it and handle it. I expect him to have a major impact on this year’s team. He adds athleticism and skill to the guard position.”
12 – Antoine Lindsey, Sr., G, 5-7 – “Antoine is a tremendous shooter with range, and he’s very skilled with the ball in his hands. He’s capable of being a great defender on the ball. Antoine had a great junior year where he had some huge games and was a big part of that team’s success. He can make plays and score point in bunches.”
14 – Kevin Silver, Sr., G, 5-11 – “Kevin is a three-year varsity player, and he’s another guard with tremendous range and ballhandling skills. He made huge shots for us as a junior at critical moments. He played his best basketball of the season at the end of the year in the biggest games. He’s a gym rat who loves to play and compete. He will run the team from the point and also play off the ball on the wing.”
20 – Ian Elliott, Jr., G, 5-10 – “He’s been one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. He has really done a number of things well. He understands the game and plays within himself. With added strength and experience he will have a chance to be a major contributor at the varsity level as his career progresses.”
22 – Jordan Kehler, Jr., G, 5-11 – “Jordan is one of the most improved players in our program since I started coaching the boys. He loves the game and puts time in working on skills. He’s one of the best athletes on the team and had a great ability to get to the rim and finish around the basket.”
24 – Skyler McKinney, Sr., G, 6-5 – “Skyler is an all-around player that will be relied upon heavily in all phases of the game. He had an outstanding junior year that saw him come up one vote short of conference Player of the Year honors. At one point last season, he led us in every major statistical category but one. He’s one of the best wing players to play at McDowell. He’s a team leader in every aspect.”
30 – Trenton Gragg, Jr., G, 6-0 – “He’s a skilled offensive player that can score in a variety of ways. He can score inside and out. With added improvement defensively and attention to detail, he will be a very good varsity player for us.”
32 – Caden Davis, Sr., F, 6-2 – “He’s one of a coach’s favorite kinds of player. He plays hard and understands his role, and cares about winning more than anything else. He loves to play the game. He’ll be called on to rebound the ball, get teammates open and add energy and toughness to the defensive end. He’s a very good shooter from the mid range and can finish around the basket in transition.”
34 – Adam Randolph, Jr., F, 6-0 – “Adam is a Swiss army knife player. He can do so many things to help you win. He has a tremendous motor and plays hard. He’s one of those players who always seem to be around the ball. He’ll be counted on heavily to rebound and defend. He’s a great passer in the open court who can finish around the basket and play multiple positions.”
40 – Nick Grande, Sr., G, 5-10 – “He is the ultimate team player and extremely coachable. He’s the best player on the team at feeding the post. He plays extremely hard and understands what is needed at the defensive end.”
42 – Travis Corpening, Sr., F, 6-2 – “Travis came on strong at the end of his junior season with some huge games. He’s strong down low and he’ll have to play bigger than he is for us to be as good as we can be this season as a team. He’s our only true low-post presence. He must finish around the basket. He’s capable of stepping out on the floor and taking bigger defenders off the dribble.”
44 – J.C. Olivo, Jr., G, 5-8 – “He’s a high-energy, fast point guard that pushes the ball hard and is capable of making open perimeter shots. He has the potential to be one of the best on-ball defenders and overall defenders on the team. He will change games with his intensity.”
50 – Andruw Randolph, Jr., F, 6-0 – “Andruw is an athletic forward that adds depth at the forward position. He has great potential as a basketball player because he can do a number of things on the court, and he plays very hard.”
52 – Andrew Davis, Jr., F, 6-0 – “Andrew is a tremendous football player that plays basketball like a football player, which is great to have on any team. He works extremely hard in practice and always comes ready to play. He’s by far the best screener on the team. We need him to be a presence rebounding.”
54 – Cole England, Sr., G, 6-2 – “Cole brings toughness to a team that needs it desperately. He’s capable of playing four different positions for us. He has made a tremendous effort to rebound the basketball in the preseason, which is an area of concern for this particular team.”
McDowell High basketball schedule 2017-18
Nov. 28 East Burke
Dec. 1 @Mitchell
Dec. 5 @R-S Central
Dec. 7 @East Burke
Dec. 12 Mitchell
Dec. 13 R-S Central
Dec. 15 Hickory*
Dec. 19 @St. Stephens*
Dec. 22 Fred T. Foard
Dec. 27-29 @Freedom Tournament
Jan. 3 @Watauga*
Jan. 5 @Alexander Central*
Jan. 9 South Caldwell*
Jan. 12 West Caldwell*
Jan. 16 Freedom*
Jan. 19 @Hickory*
Jan. 23 St. Stephens*
Jan. 26 Watauga*
Jan. 30 Alexander Central*
Feb. 2 @South Caldwell*
Feb. 6 @West Caldwell*
Feb. 9 @Freedom*
*-Northwestern 3A/4A Conference game