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Starting over: Hogg, Jamabo provided solid base for West with more help likely on the way
BY Kevin Hageland, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a bi-district playoff game versus Richardson in which Plano West boys basketball made multiple double-digit comebacks only to fall short, 79-77, it would have been easy for the Wolves to hang their heads.
But that wasn't the case.
"We told the guys to focus on what all we accomplished," said Anthony Morgan, West head coach. "We had growing pains, but we fought through it had a very respectable season in what was supposed to be a transition year."
"We lost a lot of key players," Morgan said. "So we knew we were going with a very young group."
But that diminish West's hopes of making the postseason for a sixth straight year.
"We tried to instill in the kids the expectations here at West and the fact we feel we should always make the playoffs," Morgan said. "We had talent, it was just a matter of getting better as the season went along."
Even with highly-touted sophomores Soso Jamabo (who didn't join the team until after football season) and D.J. Hogg, West struggled.
"We had a bit of a rough start," Morgan said.
The turning point came in the Whataburger Tournament at the end of December after West suffered its most lopsided defeat of the season, a 75-35 loss to Long Beach Poly (California).
"That tournament was both our low and high of the season," Morgan said. "There were so many good teams, we went in with a goal of at least getting a win. Then we got doubled up against Long Beach and told the guys that they have to go out there and compete no matter what the circumstances."
The Wolves responded by defeating Justin Northwest, Coppell and Fort Worth Trimble Tech to win the consolation bracket.
"That really boosted the boys' confidence," Morgan said.
West eventually extended its winning streak to seven games, the last two of which put the Wolves at 2-0 in district. Pacing the run were Jamabo (unanimous selection as Newcomer of the Year), Hogg (unanimous Offensive Player of the Year), Lozano and junior Tre Anderson.
"DJ and Soso were huge for us," Morgan said. "AJ was important too with his experience and Tre stepped up huge."
West found itself at 3-2 midway through district (with losses to first-place Plano East and second-place Allen). That created separation between the Wolves and teams jockeying for the final playoff position, a trend that held for the remainder of 10-5A play with the Wolves finishing at 6-4.
"Even our teams the last couple years were going down to the end to secure a playoff spot," Morgan said. "So to clinch and still have multiple games to go was unbelievable for this team."
As the No. 3 seed, West was hoping to defeat Richardson and win in the area round for a rematch with district champion East.
The Eagles had their own designs on playoff advancement though as they defeated the Wolves, 79-77, in a game in which the future was fully on display for West with Hogg and Jamabo combining for 54 points. That loss marked the first time West hasn't won at least one playoff game since Morgan's initial season at the helm in 2006-07.
But Morgan, who also lauded praise on assistant coaches Nathan Leraas and Derrick Richardson, remains upbeat.
"Look at what we have coming back," he said. "We have 11 guys set to return (including consistent-minute players like juniors Josh Webb, CJ Winzer and sophomore Waseem Limbada) and they all got better during the year."
Those returners might be getting help.
That won't include top-five state prospect Austin Grandstaff, who is back at Rockwall after a brief transfer to West, but could include a number of other young players like freshman McKinley Mitchell (younger brother of Prestonwood Christian Academy sophomore standout Mickey Mitchell), who was part of a Wolves JV squad that was once again in the mix for a district title.
"We had a dynamite eighth-grade group too and we're looking at bringing some of those kids up, because we had a couple that were really phenomenal," Morgan said. "So I'm extremely pumped up for the next two, three years ... really, just the future in general at West."
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