By Todd Newville
The Newcastle boys’ basketball team is looking to improve upon its 7-16 record from a year ago. Last year, the Racers came on strong at the very end and took Mannford into triple-overtime before losing a heartbreaker, 64-60, in their regional tournament in Cushing.
This summer, Newcastle head coach Stuart Payne focused his team on shooting the ball – pure and simple. Payne, in his third year at Newcastle, said he can see a difference in his team’s outside shooting ability due the hard work players put in over the summer vacation.
“We have been going non-stop since that day we lost to Mannford,” Payne said. “We have more consistent shooters this year. So, we’ll be more of a threat from the outside. This summer, that’s all we worked on. We have gotten better at shooting the ball and getting better from the perimeter.”
Payne said senior guards Keeton Smith and Blaize Driskill worked especially hard to perfect their shooting. Two more seniors (Jaden Hayer and Alex Reyes) also made significant strides from outside.
Down low near the bucket, Payne will be looking at senior forward Garrett Knowles and junior forward Zack Munoz to lead the Racers underneath and on the glass. Sophomore forward Kyndell Rodgers might also be a force around the paint for Newcastle.
“We lost our big man in (forward) Jaxon Sykes and we lost (guard) Noah Gibson who was a real steady presence for us on the court,” Payne said. “Those were two really big losses for us from last year. They played a huge contributing part to our season last year – especially down the stretch at regionals. I think we’re going to shoot the ball much better this year, though. We have the personnel to win.”
Payne is very excited to start the regular season because of how his hoopsters performed in the pre-season. “The outlook is good for us and it’s very positive right now. First, we scrimmaged Westmoore and Mount Saint Mary’s. Both those teams are picked to go deep in the playoffs this year.
“We played six quarters total against both and we won three and lost three. That was a very positive experience for us. We also played Lindsay and Harding Prep in a scrimmage and we won all 10 quarters that we played against them. We were very happy with that scrimmage.”
Austin Cooper will be wearing his familiar No. 5 jersey again this year for Payne. Of course, the senior all-around athlete probably won’t be seeing much playing time for at least the first half of the season. Cooper is still recuperating from a broken left leg he sustained in the football team’s season opener in September at Noble.
“That was a tough thing for him and us,” Payne said. “He’s been with me since my first day here. He’s a part of this team, definitely. Whether he gets to play later on is up in the air. We’ll just have to see about that. But, I told him whether he’s hurt or not, he’s a part of this team because he’s given so much already. He’s going to help us just with his presence.”
Vicente Rodriguez and Joey Rice are seniors for Newcastle this year while Aaron Wehling will be a junior. Sophomores on the Racers’ varsity roster include: Gage Pittman, Solomon Granger, Caleb Freeman, Cooper Baldwin, Skyler Shurow, and Kruz Vargas. The Racers host Tuttle in their season opener at 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 28.