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TJ's Myers talks importance of team growth in 2024

Jan. 16—Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School graduated six players from its boys basketball team from last season.

Not only did the Cavaliers lose six players but they lost almost every bit of their varsity production from last year. Some of those graduates were leaders — Jay Ball, Tyler Brouhard and Kip Atteberry. Tony Touma, Levi Triplett and Benji Carroll were also seniors from last year's squad.

And the year before saw six or seven seniors on the basketball team graduate.

Sophomore Kohl Thurman is one of few returning players with varsity experience from 2023. Thurman offers some leadership qualities to this young team playing mostly underclassmen.

"Kohl's definitely a leader. He's a quiet leader," TJ head coach Chris Myers said. "He's not a very vocal kid, but he's a talented kid. In that regard, the kids definitely look up to him because they know he's one of our best players."

Junior Ethan Renger is another Cavalier who received varsity minutes during the 2022-23 season.

Which leads to a whole new team trying to piece things together and build chemistry with one another this season. Varsity players now include Renger, Thurman, sophomore Jaxx Wisdom and freshmen Jack Twiss, Spencer Long, Yousuf Mokhtar, Jackson Radius and Simon Studer.

"I think the value is we're laying the groundwork that we're going to have in place the next four years," Myers said. "Most times you may only have kids at the varsity level for two years. In this case, we're going to have most of these guys for the next four years."

Myers added that the groundwork being laid now will start paying dividends in the next couple years.

The Cavaliers have struggled to a 2-11 start, and the coach admitted it hasn't been fun.

"It levels you again," Myers said of the slow start. "We've been blessed over the last several years to have some competitive teams. This brings me back down in a coaching standpoint to where I have to be reminded maybe of things we've taken for granted.

"We've had to break the game down from a fundamental standpoint at the lowest level for these guys because they're so young. I wouldn't say it has been fun but it has been fun to see them grow."

They're coming off five straight seasons of 19 or more wins and at least a second-place finish in the district playoffs. Those five seasons saw TJ rack up a 101-37 record.

TJ's group now is at a disadvantage not having those seniors to look up to and learn from like most teams do. With seven freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and no seniors, the learning is coming from just the coaching staff and not from getting to watch their peers as upperclassmen work.

The Cavaliers will work to get back to that point. They have a reminder on the shirts that some of them wear around and see in the stands being worn by fans. That reminder is the three-peat of district championships that was won by the teams that came before.

"I think that's something that's helped keep these guys grounded too," Myers said. "Obviously, we've had some frustrating times this year and I won't say the kids haven't been frustrated, but they have seen what the program is capable of over the last few years. ... They know how exciting that is and they're hungry to keep working and fight through some of this because they know here in a couple years they can get back to that same point we were at."

Myers has seen the most growth from his team in learning how to handle pressure without making bad decisions, but he does still see his team make some of those "young" mistakes.

"Just not comprehending how a defense rotates or how an offense is supposed to rotate," Myers said. "The other side of it is, physically, it's just hard for a freshman to play against an 18-year-old. The speed of the game is different coming out of junior high. These guys are adjusting to that speed. They can't physically play at that speed yet, but they're adjusting to it.

"That's where I think here in the next four years it's going to be exciting. When they're able to play at that speed, ... we're going to be a team people have to respect again."

About that physical ability, Myers says he can live with turnovers that come from not being physically able to make certain plays as long as it was the right decision. Where he will lose some sleep at night is when his group is making the wrong decision or letting the defense force them into rushed passes to the wrong place.

Myers doesn't coach for wins and losses. He says his main goal is still to create great men off the court and after high school and watch them achieve their highest potential.

He noted that he knows he is expected to help them become the best basketball players they can be and winning and losing is important to him, just not his top priority.

GAME NOTES

Thomas Jefferson was seeded eighth and was matched up with the No. 1 seed in St. Mary's Colgan to begin the Tony Dubray Classic on Tuesday night at Liberal High School.

The Cavaliers fell 65-16. The Panthers were led by by two players in double figures and Jack Schremmer was the top scorer with 16. Tristan Voss added 12 points. Mokhtar and Thurman scored 4 apiece to lead TJ.

TJ was trailing 31-11 at halftime.