So much of Derby’s 2019-2020 basketball season was a step in the right direction.
The team was able to wash away any remnants of a 7-15 season in 2018-19, finishing 14-8 and one win away from state. A closer look at its schedule and four of its losses came against arguably the two best teams in 6A, BV Northwest and Campus (three times).
“We were right there so many times last year,” coach Brett Flory said. “A big emphasis will be [taking that extra step] and finishing some of those games that we had a chance to win. Hopefully we can pull away in some of those games that were closer than we wanted them to be too.”
A new year also means three double-digit scorers (Nick Bonner, Jacob Karsak and Tre Washington) are gone and that an especially large group of sophomores will be asked to play significantly more minutes in 2020-2021.
“They have to take a huge step forward,” Flory said. “All of the sophomores and juniors that are now juniors and seniors have to realize they’re in the position that this team is their responsibility. If they don’t play well, we’re going to have a hard time winning.”
Senior Isaac Ray will undoubtedly be a focal point for Flory and his staff. As the team’s returning leading scorer (8.6), the 6-foot-5 guard/forward will be asked to fill a number of roles for the roster.
Ray has demonstrated an ability to score from all spots on the floor and as a returning starter, Flory said his senior understands the role he’ll fill and is the team’s best shooter.
The longtime Derby coach also said Ray brings a high I.Q. in its defensive pressure.
“He’ll need to make plays in big games and big situations,” Flory said. “He won’t be a complementary piece like he was to our seniors last year. Now, he will be a focal point of our team and the opponent’s defense. He has prepared a lifetime for this, though.”
Derby basketball coaches began to see Jameer Clemons emerge as a go-to scorer early as a sophomore. Injuries derailed some of those plans last year, but he reemerged as a starting cornerback for the football team and showcased more of the athleticism that Flory and his staff rave about.
The junior will be a strong contender for the starting point guard for the Panthers. At the same time, Flory hopes that he is one of two or three that can share and effectively guide the roster from the position.
“Jameer is our junkyard dog,” Flory said. “He really stepped forward this summer as a leader and our hardest-playing guy in the program. He’s athletic and he has a motor. You put those things together, you can have a special player defensively and he has worked hard to improve his skill level offensively.”
The theme of emerging player falls right in line with junior forward Amari Thomas. He too has played a varsity role as a freshman and a sophomore. He will likely serve as one of Derby’s most important players offensively, taking a jump from 6.5 points one year ago.
“This summer he [made that leap] and we hope to continue that process,” Flory said. “He has so much offensive versatility and he can bully people inside. He’s bigger and stronger now and he should be able to body people now along with being an effective shooter.”
Flory said guard/forward Kole Barger may be as athletic as any player on the court and now wants to see him tie his best moments into one consistent season.
“This summer, we saw that progression come from him,” Flory said. “Kole can really shoot the ball and he hasn’t shown that a ton yet [in season]. He is also a very versatile player where he can score inside against bigger guys and take smaller players off the dribble.”
While he has arguably served as one of its best defensive guards in seasons past, Flory said senior guard Blake Chadwick has emerged as someone who can impact the game on both ends of the floor.
Tie that in with being one of the biggest vocal leaders on the roster and the Derby coach believes Chadwick will carve out his biggest role to-date.
“Blake had a really good AAU season,” Flory said. “He has worked very hard to tighten up his game and become more consistent. He is also lightning quick defensively.”
Asking a sophomore with sparse varsity minutes to play in a sub-state championship game isn’t an easy assignment. However, now junior Trent Parke not only dropped nine points in the game, but was one of Derby’s best players in just his 13th varsity game of the year.
The southpaw showed the potential that Flory and his staff have raved about since before he was in high school.
“Trent, without question, is in the mix,” Flory said. “He can just flat out score and he has always been able to do that. His skill level is getting close to a Taylor Schieber level and it’s a pretty good compliment because Taylor is about as skilled of a guard as I’ve ever had.”
One of its biggest additions this season is new to Derby. Wichita East transfer guard Fontaine Williams was a first-team selection in the All-GWAL postseason picks last year. He averaged 17.1 points per game and played in all 21 games of his freshman and sophomore seasons at Wichita East. He also scored 15 or more points in 14 of its games this past year.
“Playing against him was enough to know he is a kid that can flat play,” Flory said. “We did a pretty good job on him and he still carried their offense [in Derby’s 61-53 win over Wichita East in the AVCTL/GWAL Challenge]. He is very, very quick and hard to stay in front of. He shoots the ball to be very dangerous behind the arc."