CENTER, Mo. — The Mark Twain boys basketball program will usher in a new era with a young team and a familiar face as the Tigers head coach as it enters the 2020-21 season.
Jared Akright takes over for Cody McCann, after serving as junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach for three seasons.
The familiarity Akright has with the team helps make the transition smoother.
“I learned a lot of great things from Coach McCann,” Akright said. “He always laid out his expectations for the players and team, and held them accountable. I also learned the importance of having a drawn out and detailed practice path.”
Mark Twain is coming off a down year, finishing 4-20 and a first-round exit to Louisiana in the district tournament in 2019-20.
Akright is looking to emphasize three main points to the Tigers this season — hard work, mental toughness and a team-first mentality.
“If a team doesn’t have these three components, they will not be successful, no matter how much talent they have,” Akright said. “These are also traits that will make them successful in life after basketball.”
The Tigers enter the season with only two seniors on the roster, Devin Whaley and Dawson Leake. All five starters from last year’s team graduated, leaving Mark Twain with a young and inexperienced team.
Akright said he has not decided on what the starting lineup will look like.
“There are a lot of players that were playing football and they haven’t had the opportunity to earn a spot yet,” Akright said. “We will have one full week of practice before our first game and I will determine the starters then.”
With the Mark Twain football season concluding last Friday, players such as Whaley, Lakoda Preston, Jaxen Lake, Lukas McLeod, Josh Black and Jaxen Lake are entering their first week in practice.
The Tigers also had to cancel some offseason workouts and practices in the summer time due to the coronavirus. The basketball team will adhere to the guidelines and precautions the school district has put in place as it enters the season.
In the practices leading up to Nov. 24 opener against Paris, Akright has been stressing the importance of playing solid defense.
“The foundation for this team and program will be (having) a strong defensive team,” Akright said. “Practice will be high-tempo with high intensity. The practices will be harder physically than the games. I do not want to lose any game because we were tired or mentally weak during the game.”
With the team focusing on defense, Akright feels that there could be a different high scorer each game.
“On the defensive side of the ball, all five guys out on the court will be playing high-energy, high-intensity defense,” Akright said. “The players know if you don’t play defense, you don’t play at all for me.”
Mark Twain will begin its season with three straight home games, the Nov. 24 opener against Paris, a Dec. 1 matchup against Palmyra and a Dec. 4 matchup with Community.
When January hits, Mark Twain will compete in two tournaments within a three-week period, the Clopton Invitational and the Tony Lenzini Tournament in Palmyra.
“The biggest thing we can do to prepare for these tournaments is to be in great physical shape and also mentally strong,” Akright said. “Tournaments are a long week for the players, so we have to be in great shape mentally and physically before we play the first game in the tournaments.”