Lone Grove boys basketball turning to team-first culture to help program find success

Beau Bearden
The Daily Ardmoreite
Andy Dunham and the Longhorns host Byng at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30 to open the 2021-22 campaign.

All coaches enjoy having athletes who are bought in and willing to do what’s best for one another.

Sometimes it doesn’t translate to wins, but the Lone Grove High School boys basketball team believes this group's intangibles will lead to a successful 2021-22 season.

“These guys like to be around each other,” said Longhorns head coach John Garrett. “They love each other and they’re good teammates to each other. It’ll start showing on the court. I feel like I can let these guys go a little bit. I don’t have to coach every player, every second of every game. I can let them make decisions and do things, which has been nice in the offseason.”

Lone Grove didn’t get many chances to show its talent a season ago as COVID-19 put a damper on the campaign. The Longhorns still finished 8-5, including a win over Pauls Valley in 4A Regionals and a close overtime loss to Cache.

“We’re looking up and we expect a lot out of this season,” Garrett said. “I think we were a pretty good basketball team last year, but we didn’t get to show that a whole lot with us playing 10 regular-season games. We took a lot of two-week breaks in there, but out of all those things, the guys never looked for excuses. We still played well at times and have almost all of the guys back.”

A few of the returning Longhorns include seniors Cayden Copeland, Andy Dunham, Nick Kelch and JJ Miller along with juniors Aiden Hale and Kyle Miller.

Garrett praised Dunham for having a really good summer and is looking for him to have a big year. Meanwhile, JJ Miller is expected to once again be Lone Grove’s Swiss Army Knife.

“JJ Miller kind of did a little bit of everything last year,” Garrett said. “He wasn’t necessarily our leading scorer, but he was close. He’s an all-around player.”

Hale was Lone Grove’s offensive threat despite only playing in 10 games, but Garrett said he’s improved a lot. Kyle Miller rounds out the group as Garrett mentioned that he just keeps getting better all the time.

“This is one of the deepest teams that I’ve coached,” Garrett said. “Most of them aren’t selfish guys. They just want to win. That’s going to help us in the long run.”

The Longhorns’ length should also pay dividends.

“We’re pretty long and rangy,” Garrett said. “Some of those guys just keep getting taller and longer. They’ve bought into defense — getting after it on defense and getting points out of our defense in transition.”

Lone Grove will quickly find out how it stacks up against the competition when Byng comes to town at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30. However, whether they win or lose, they'll remain focused on a common goal.

“We’re going to preach the same stuff — we want to be winners,” Garrett said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you win every game, but we’re going to act like winners and prepare like winners. If we can execute and get it done, we will. If we won’t, we won’t. There’s not going to be any excuses for us. We either get it done or we don’t. That’s the way I’ve always been and I stay that way.

“Sometimes you have good talent and guys that buy in, and you have a successful season,” Garrett continued. “Sometimes you struggle because of various reasons, but ultimately they’re not buying into what you’re trying to do as a program. We’re trying to get a culture going and I think it’s starting to get more important down here. As a coach, I’m going to stay steady and be a rock for these guys because there’s a lot of ups and downs.”