By Dave Wagner
What you see tonight when the Clovis High boys open their basketball season against Hereford at Rock Staubus Gym won’t be what you see in a few weeks.
Only eight Wildcats, including two moved up from the junior varsity, will dress for the 7:45 p.m. game against the Whitefaces.
Third-year coach J.D. Isler, whose squad went 17-9 and lost a last-second heartbreaker at La Cueva in the Class 5A regional round last year, hopes CHS can win its second state football championship in three years. Until they’re done in the playoffs, though, the Cats will make do with what they have.
Four members of the basketball varsity are still playing football — senior Mario Caswell and juniors Jacob Jones, Elliott Hita and John Props — while 6-foot-6 junior post Tig
Bunton was declared academically ineligible for the second nine weeks and then moved to Florida to live with family members there.
In addition, senior guard Jason Seefeld — the Wildcats’ stellar placekicker in football — will skip basketball this year to concentrate on baseball after signing recently to play baseball at the University of Arizona.
As shorthanded as they are for the moment, the presence of Bunton and Seefeld would surely help, Isler said.
“There’s a big difference between six and eight (varsity players),” he said. “But we feel real good about the kids we’ve got. We’re just not going to be able to get into foul trouble.
“The kids will have to be mentally tough enough to play a lot of minutes, and I think they are.”
Senior point guard Bud Willis and senior shooting guard Justin Pinckney have the most experience of the players currently out. Isler is high on 6-4 junior forward Dominique Easterlin, up from last year’s junior varsity.
Another JV graduate, junior guard Tizrick Phillips, and senior guard Zac Watters — injured all of last year — will round out tonight’s starters. Senior Jermaine Davis will be the first player off the bench, with junior guard Wendell Belford and sophomore guard Jordan Moore in line for at least some playing time.
Isler said Caswell, a stout 6-foot-5 post, “is going to be a nice complement to Dominique, once we get him. Right now, though, we’ve got to find a way to win until we get everybody.”
Willis said the plight gives the Cats something to prove.
“Having just six of us, and having Tig gone, I don’t think a lot of people think we can do that well,” he said. “But this is our chance to step up and show people what we can do.”
Willis said the transition for the aforementioned football players should be relatively smooth. For the time being, though, staying out of foul trouble will be crucial.
“That’s something we’re going to have to watch,” Willis said. “We just need to play really smart defense.”
Isler said most of the teams in District 4-5A sustained significant graduation losses, including defending champion Hobbs, so the race should be wide open.
“We think we’ll be there, and I’m sure Hobbs thinks they’ll be there,” he said. “I think everybody lost (players), so it’ll take a while to see what everybody will have.”
Willis is confident the Cats will be competitive in the district.
“No doubt about it, Hobbs and Clovis always go at it,” he said. “You can’t really say now because teams get better, but I think our chances in district are pretty good.”