Considering how many key players the McDowell Titans lost to graduation, it might be easy for some fans to get caught up thinking about who the 2018-19 squad is not.
But that would be a waste of time. It turns out there’s a lot to like about who the Titans are.
McDowell graduated five senior starters from last year’s 21-7 team, but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings, including a dynamic, senior backcourt duo, a reliable and athletic set of wing players and a couple of promising sophomores.
“This team is going to be different in a lot of ways, but they can be successful in a lot of ways,” said eighth-year head coach Brian Franklin. “Early on, the kids are going to be working to try and find what their role is because it’s such a different team. I say this every year, but their roles have changed.”
The roles may be different, but there’s no reason to expect the results to look drastically different than they have in recent years, and that’s a good thing. McDowell has won 46 games over the last two seasons, and Franklin said this year’s club is anxious to carve out its own niche.
“I like this group. I think they feel a challenge; we’ve got something to live up to. We’ve been very successful and they want to step up and show that this is our time. We’re going to carry on and have a good year too.”
The potential is there for the Titans to do just that.
Although starters Skyler McKinney, Kevin Silver, Travis Corpening, Antoine Lindsey and Caden Davis are gone, senior guards Dylan McRary and J.C. Olivo and senior forward Adam Randolph return from the eight-man rotation that helped the Titans go 11-3 in Northwestern 3A/4A Conference play a year ago and advance to the State 4A playoffs for the 31st time in the last 33 seasons.
In addition, junior wing Qualique ‘Q’ Garner and sophomore guard Dequan Boyce, as well as sophomore post Trent Lewis and junior post Richard Handy – all standouts off last year’s 14-5 jayvee team – appear poised to excel on the varsity level.
Although the Titans should again be pretty good, there will be some differences, the most obvious of which is the fact McDowell likely won’t approach the astronomical offensive numbers of the last couple seasons.
But Franklin said this squad’s hard-nosed attitude could lead to improved play in other areas. Five Titans, Olivo, both Randolph brothers, Handy and Boyce, just joined the team after wrapping up the football campaign, and the coach said he hopes they bring some of that gridiron intensity to the hardwood.
“The biggest thing I see with this team as far as what their strengths are going to be is No. 1, they’re going to be tough,” said Franklin. “They’re going to be a tough bunch, and I’d be surprised if they weren’t. When you say toughness in basketball terms, it always relates to how you play defense and how you rebound the ball.
“This team is going to have to rely heavily on being able to defend people and rebound. We’ve got some kids who can do some things offensively, but it’s not going to be like what you’ve seen in the past.”
Despite the differences, Franklin is especially optimistic about the Titans’ guard play.
Olivo will slide right into the point guard position, where he backed up Silver admirably a year ago. His averages of 4 points, 1.5 assists and 1 steal per game should rise dramatically.
McRary is an athletic combo guard with big-time scoring potential who will almost certainly improve his numbers – 7.1 points per game, 2.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1 steal, 36.6 percent 3-point shooting – exponentially as a senior.
“I feel really good about our guard play,” said Franklin. “Dylan and J.C. can do a lot of different kinds of things.”
So can Adam Randolph, who will become more of a stretch-4 player this season than last. Randolph averaged 1.3 points and 2.1 boards per game last year, but his ability to get to the rim and finish in transition should make him a much more effective scorer this time.
Two other senior varsity returners, Andruw Randolph and Trenton Gragg, could also see plenty of playing time as well. The versatile Gragg can shoot it from the perimeter and Andruw Randolph is the club’s fastest player.
Garner brings explosive athleticism and a much-improved skill set to the table, and that’s also the case for Boyce. Franklin is excited about the defensive potential of both players.
In the post, the Titans are undersized, but Lewis (6-3) and Handy (6-2) – coming off a splendid football season at the tight end position – have plenty of strength and physicality to mix it up at the varsity level. Franklin said he’s looking for Lewis to become the kind of consistent low-post scorer into which Corpening grew over the course of last season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who will pass it and move it around, almost to a fault at times,” said Franklin. “We’ve got a couple of kids that are going to have to learn we need them to score.
“We’re really going to have to move the ball from side to side, but I think this is the kind of team that can be patient and move it around and do some good things.”
Senior post Mack Branch, a first-time player, along with juniors Jalen Robbins, Johnathan Ramirez and Seth Harrison, round out the frontcourt. Junior guards Tyler Rector and Dylan Aldridge provide promising depth in the backcourt.
“This is the first time in a while that everything is going to look new,” said Franklin. “That’s exciting. It gives these guys an opportunity to do something they’ve not been doing.”
One thing they’ve done – win basketball games – should remain consistent, however.
McDowell Titans head coach Brian Franklin talks about the Titans:
10 – Dylan McRary, Sr., G, 5-11 – “I cannot wait to see what kind of year Dylan is going to have. He had some big games as a junior on a guard-heavy team. Now, with many of those faces gone, we are relying on him. He’s an athletic guard that can handle it and get to the rim. He’s the best perimeter shooter on the team. We’re counting on him in every facet of the game and being consistent night in and night out. Without a doubt, he’s one of the best players in our league this year.”
12 – J.C. Olivo, Sr. PG, 5-6 – “He played tailback in football but he’s going to be the quarterback of the basketball team. He will be our point guard the second he steps on the floor. I was so impressed with J.C. as a junior. No one plays harder than him. He’s a great on-ball defender and pushes the ball in transition. He proved last year he is more than capable of making big shots from the perimeter. He’s a great team leader that loves to win.”
14 – Dequan Boyce, Soph., G, 6-0 – “Dequan is a ball magnet; he’s one of those players that just seems to be in the middle of every play and can help you win in so many ways. He will add athleticism and strength to our guard positions. He had a great summer, far exceeding my expectations in the camp games we played. He continues to work on his game and his skills are starting to catch up with his athleticism. He could end up being a very special player for us.”
20 – Qualique Garner, Jr., W, 6-1 – “He has everything you need to be a great player; good size, athletic, strong, skilled player that has put so much time into his individual game and understands the game. I have been extremely proud of the way ‘Q’ has performed in the preseason. He has been a team leader and very coachable. If he stays within himself and remains level emotionally, he will be an all-conference performer this year.”
22 – Dylan Aldridge, Jr., W, 6-0 – “Dylan is a tough kid that will add depth at the wing position this year. Dylan has stretches where he is aggressive and just plays and looks great. He has the ability to take the ball strong to the basket and score. He has the ability to get to the mid-range and score.”
24 – Tyler Rector, Jr., G, 5-11 – “Tyler is one of the best shooters on the team and will compete for playing time at the wing position. He has really good all-around skills and loves to play. With added strength and size, he could end up being a great player. He’s a player that we will look at immediately versus any zone. He needs to have the same confidence in himself that I have in him. He loves to be in the gym and has the attitude coaches wish all players had.”
30 – Trenton Gragg, Sr., F, 6-0 – “Trenton is the basketball equivalent of a utility player, which means there are a lot of different things he can do well on the basketball court. Because of that, he will be playing several different positions for us and we will be leaning on him to score and rebound the ball at his positions without turning it over.”
32 – Andruw Randolph, Sr., F, 6-0 – “Andruw played great in summer games. He’s a solid defender and rebounder who finds a way to score around the basket. He understands the game and just does what he is asked to do. He has the potential to be a shut-down defender. He’s the fastest player on the team end line to end line.”
34 – Adam Randolph, Sr., F, 6-0 – “He played a huge role in our success as a junior on last year’s team. Although he is undersized for his position, he uses it to his advantage, taking bigger players out on the floor and has the ability to get to the rim off the dribble. He plays with tremendous effort and is great in transition. He’s one of the best passers on the team and always finds the open man.”
40 – Richard Handy, Jr., F, 6-2 – “Richard is coming off a great season on the football field. The coaches could not be more enthusiastic about his progress as a football player. He has good size and great hands and has worked hard in the weight room. I would like to see him take all those attributes that made him so good in football and use them in the gym. He has the potential to be a great rebounder, add toughness defensively and create offense for others.”
42 – Jalen Robbins, Jr., W, 6-1 – “He’s a confident shooter from the perimeter who I have been pleasantly surprised with over the first few weeks of practice. He understands what we are trying to do defensively. He’s the exact type player that plays well and learns as a junior and then seems to come out of nowhere to have a great senior season.”
44 – Trent Lewis, Soph., P, 6-3 – “Trent is coming off a great year as a ninth grader on the jayvee team. He has wingspan that plays longer than his height and he moves well for his size. He’s a very good defender in the post. We are leaning on him heavily as a sophomore playing on the varsity, but I feel confident he can handle it. He’s a very mature kid that is fun to coach. He’s a great passer for a post player, but we need him to look to score more when he has it one-on-one in the post.”
50 – Johnathan Ramirez, Jr., P, 5-11 – “J.R. had a big motor. He is just the type of kid who impresses you in just about everything he does. He’s smart, works hard and is a great teammate. Even though he is undersized, he will play because he understands the game and will not be outworked.”
52 – Seth Harrison, Jr., P, 6-4 – “Seth may be the most improved player in our program over the past two years. He is the tallest player that we have on the roster. Seth can defend and rebound and runs the floor well for his size. He continues to improve with his individual offense. He’s an energetic player that has a strong desire to improve and really become a good player.”
54 – Mack Branch, Sr., F, 6-1 – “This is Mack’s first year in our program. He has worked on his game and improved tremendously, and I’m thrilled to have him on the team. He is extremely unselfish and the type of kid who can lead a team through example. He rebounds the ball well and can finish at the basket playing the 4.”
McDowell High basketball 2018-19
Nov. 27 East Burke
Nov. 30 @Fred T. Foard
Dec. 4 R-S Central
Dec. 7 @Mitchell
Dec. 11 @East Burke
Dec. 18 @R-S Central
Dec. 21 Mitchell
Dec. 26-28 @Freedom Tournament
Jan. 2 @Hickory
Jan. 4 St. Stephens
Jan. 8 Watauga
Jan. 11 Alexander Central
Jan. 15 @South Caldwell
Jan. 18 West Caldwell
Jan. 22 @Freedom
Jan. 25 Hickory
Jan. 29 @St. Stephens
Feb. 1 @Watauga
Feb. 5 @Alexander Central
Feb. 8 South Caldwell
Feb. 12 @West Caldwell
Feb. 15 Freedom
Feb. 18-22 NWC Tournament
Feb. 25 – March 1 Sectionals
March 2-9 Regionals
March 16 State Championships
NWC games in bold