CHS BOYS BASKETBALL: Cats open today in Artesia tournament

Clovis High boys basketball coach J.D. Isler watches as junior guard Chris Moreno try to defend against junior guard Jaden Isler during a drill in Wednesday’s practice at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer

With most of its players fresh off the Class 5A football playoffs, the Clovis High boys basketball team opens its season against El Paso Jefferson today in the Artesia Invitational.

Wildcats coach J.D. Isler, entering his sixth season at the helm, said this year’s squad has significant experience under its belt. The Cats relied heavily on seven sophomores last season, finishing 16-10 and winning the District 4-5A regular-season title en route to a spot in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.

Now, Isler believes his squad is poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“We feel like the kids understand what it takes to be a playoff team,” Isler said. “And that’s going to be in our favor.”

El Paso Jefferson beat Clovis in last year’s semifinals at Artesia. The Cats went on to take third place.

“They are a real deliberate, half-court team,” Isler said of the Foxes. “(They’re) kind of the opposite of us.”

Although the Cats haven’t taken a shot that truly counts, Isler knows some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Wildcats are loaded with athleticism, he said, especially at the guard spots with junior point guard Jaden Isler, senior two-guard Cody Thornsbury and junior guard Bryce Hill.

“They can all shoot well, they can all penetrate and create things for the post players,” coach Isler said. “So as a core group of guards, we feel those three are going to provide us with a lot of things, not just scoring.”

Thornsbury, the team’s leading scorer last season, said his role is to make plays.

“My role is if I’m open, I knock down shots, make plays and have no turnovers,” said Thornsbury, a left-hander who also was the Cats’ top 3-point threat last season.

Because of their overall lack of size, rebounding is a concern for the Cats, coach Isler acknowledged.

“We’re so small we’re just going to have to be a team that does a great job of boxing out,” he said, “and be very active in keeping the ball alive by tipping it.”

Senior forward Michael Lewis, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 213 pounds, is the one post player Isler said must come up big for the Cats.

“We really need him to have a solid year inside,” Isler said. “He’s obviously our biggest kid, and he’s left-handed and strong.”

Clovis’ almost yearly deep run into the football playoffs usually cuts into the basketball team’s early practice time. The Cats’ first-round loss to Sandia on Nov. 24 has given the basketball team a little extra time to prepare, and Isler said the players have pushed themselves.

“People think they’re in shape going from football to basketball, but they’ve worked extremely hard,” he said. “It’s probably better for kids to get right back and involved, rather than sit around and think about coming off a defeat. In that aspect, they’ve made the transition pretty well.”

In terms of the early schedule, Isler said he’s keeping an eye on Tuesday’s home opener against Amarillo High and the Dec. 16 match-up at Roswell Goddard.

Amarillo High will have nine games under its belt when it gets to Clovis.
“It’s always tough when you’re still trying to work out some kinks,” Isler said, “and you’re playing a team that’s seasoned already.”

Goddard has already played a strong game against Clovis’ District 4-5A rival, Hobbs, prompting Isler to call the Rockets a formidable opponent.

7-9 — at Artesia tournament (7 vs. El Paso Jefferson, 1 p.m.); 12 — Amarillo High, 7 p.m.; 15 — Aztec, 7 p.m.; 16 — at Roswell Goddard, 7 p.m.; 19 — Portales, 7 p.m.; 21 — Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 22 — Alamogordo, 7 p.m.; 28-30 — Milk Cow Classic (28 vs. Pampa, 7:30 p.m.).
2 — at Amarillo, 6:30 p.m.; 5 — at Moriarty, 7 p.m.; 6 — Roswell Goddard, 7 p.m.; 12-13 — Purple Pepper Shootout, TBA; 19 — at Rio Rancho, 7 p.m.; 20 — at Sandia, 2:30 p.m.; 23 — at Borger, 6:30 p.m.; 26 — Artesia, 7 p.m.
2 — at Hobbs, 7 p.m-x; 6 — Carlsbad, 7 p.m.-x; 9 — at Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 13 — at Carlsbad, 7 p.m.-x; 16 — Hobbs, 7 p.m.-x.
All times MST. x-Denotes District 4-5A games.

No. Name Ht. Pos. Yr.
3 Bryce Hill 6-0 G Jr.
4 Chris Moreno 5-6 G Jr.
10 Jordan Mendoza 6-2 F Jr.
12 Manuel Robles 5-11 G Jr.
14 Patrick Duffield 6-1 F So.
20 Michael Lewis 6-4 F Sr.
22 Jaden Isler 5-11 G Jr.
24 Cody Thornsbury 5-7 G Sr.
32 Lane Strebeck 6-4 F Jr.
33 Diondre Hunter 5-11 F Jr.
34 Aaron Boydston 6-0 F Jr.
Head coach: J.D. Isler (6th year). Assistant coaches: Mike Hankins, Lonnie Baca, Scott Robinson. 2005-06 record: 16-10 (3-1, 1st, in District 4-5A).