By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Year two of the Jewell Gates Era officially began the day before Halloween.
The Millington Trojan head coach entered the William Osteen Gymnasium more established and with a stronger sense of familiarity. And right behind him were members of the 2017-18 Millington Trojans.
The players appeared to walk in the gym as a cohesive unit and with a common mission to move the bleachers in before practice.
Gates didn’t have to yell instructions or make multiple demands. It seemed his standards and culture for accountability is sinking into his players.
“I think it was established,” Gates said of his culture. “If you’re talking a letter grade A through F, it was B-minus. Most of the guys who are returning know what to expect now. They know how hard they’ve got to go.
“They know how hard they must practice,” he continued. “They know they must work on D. One of the main things now is a terminology. They know certain words that they didn’t know this time last year. I think that will make it a little bit easier. The terminology, expectations and I will admit the ability has improved. Mainly because they’re a year older. They run a little bit faster, jump a lit bit higher and hopefully shoot a little bit better in this one year I’ve been with them. Just the natural maturation of getting better one year from the other. I think will be better. We’ll be a better basketball team.”
Gates hopes his team’s development and growth will coincide with the arrivals of Fayette-Ware and Bolivar Central to District 15-2A.
“I tell people everyday, this is the toughest Double A district in the state of Tennessee,” Gates said. “They are athletic, long, freakish jumping ability that our kids might not be used to seeing on a day to day bases. Gamewise, we’re playing athletes. We’ve added Fayette-Ware and Bolivar Central — two more basketball traditional schools.
“We will probably again be the least talented on paper,” he added. “But we have talent and our kids know how to fight a little bit more. And we look forward to a good season.”
The Jackson schools of Liberty and Jackson North Side have departed from the league. Now the league of Fayette-Ware, Bolivar, Covington, Ripley and Haywood are on the schedule for the Trojans led by senior point guard Bryce Mattox.
“Bryce Mattox will have to lead this team,” Gates said. “He’s a senior now. He knows what to do. Now he has to go out there and get it done. He’ll be the coach on the floor.
“Two guys have to score the ball Hunter Klutts and sophomore Kaveyon Lewis,” he added. “Lewis will surprise a lot of people.”
Lewis had 14 points in the district tournament game last season in a rare start. He will see more time in the backcourt along with Jonathan Mattox and Cameron Craft.
The front court members of the Trojans will be expected to fulfill roles and needs consistently.
“We have certain people to do certain things,” Gates said. “That’s how I have things set up. Bobby Macklin and Taveon Collier are going to have to be the two scorers from the B positions. Mac Coulter, when he gets off the football field and gets into basketball shape, he probably has the biggest basketball IQ. He knows when to pass, how to rebound and when to shoot it. He’s going to have to do a little bit of everything rebound, pass and score in the post. He will also have to defend and be the voice out there along with Bryce.”
Other Trojans to look out for in the interior are the 6’7 Faizon Fields and Coryante “Thurl” Threlkeld. Fields is maturing into his height and developing his offensive game.
Threlkeld will be counted on for rebounding and defense.
Gates said players like Thurl and Bryce understand for the Jewell Gates’ culture to reach the next level, Millington Basketball comes first.
“If you talk to Bryce he’ll use that exact term, ‘Put myself in the backseat and put Millington in the front seat,’” he said. “That’s the mindset we’ve all have to get to. We’re all getting there but some of us are already there. Some are still working on it.
“Last year that was a little struggle to getting guys to buy into it,” Gates acknowledged. “It was nothing bad, but it was just something new. I think with the year of them being here with me and me being with them, them learning me and me learning them, we’ve gotten much better on that. Looking forward to a good season.”
Gates said a good season won’t be measured in wins or losses.
“When you do things the right way, wins are a byproduct of doing things the right way,” he concluded. “We try to do things the right way — play the right way, love each other, fight as a team and the wins will come. I just believe we’ll get it.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.