Purdy hoops ready to fly

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Purdy senior Luis Cruz looks to lead the Eagles on the basketball floor this season. Jared Lankford/sports@cassville-democrat.com

Eagles return 4 starters, 7 lettermen

Tommy Egan, Purdy basketball coach, began instilling a new belief system in his Eagles last season.

Knowing his team was short on height, he taught them that speed kills, and hustle, determination and hard work can negate some of the advantages of height.

Purdy's Jonatan Salazar drives to the lane for a bucket last season. He is one of four returning starters for the Eagles this season. Jared Lankford/sports@cassville-democrat.com

His players bought in and made their opponents earn victories. Egan was also able to platoon players to gain additional experience.

"This season, we return quite a bit of experience," Egan said. "We return seven players that played significant minutes last season. Our seniors and staff have been together since seventh grade, and we have a talented group of underclassmen."

The size situation has not improved this season, but that does not worry the Eagles' coach.

"We will be undersized almost every game but are hoping to combat that with good overall team quickness and a great work ethic," he said. "The conference and district races look to be wide open, and we are hoping to put ourselves in a position where we can compete for championships in both."

Graduated from last year's team are Robby Moody and Brayden Jones.

Moody started for the Eagles most of the season, and Jones provided a 3-point threat off the bench.

Egan said their leadership and positive examples will be tough to replace this season.

Returning starters for the Eagles are Jonatan Salazar, Luis Cruz and Raul Garcia, seniors; and Tyler Keeler, sophomore.

Salazar, a 5-9 guard, averaged 9.4 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game last season.

"Jonatan has started at point guard since his sophomore season," Egan said. "He has improved his scoring and is very active defensively. He has the ability to make plays all over the floor. We are looking for him to prove he is one of the better players in our area."

Cruz, a 5-9 guard, averaged 5 points per game last season, and the team expects more from him this year.

"Luis is a gym rat that continues to improve his game," Egan said. "He has worked very hard on the floor and in the weight room in preparation for the upcoming season."

Cruz has high hopes for his Eagles this year.

"I feel very confident in this year's team," he said. "We have a tight chemistry between us that cannot be broken. This team has a lot of potential, and our goals are set high. We are hoping to have a lot of success and go far this year."

Garcia, a 5-8 guard, averaged 6.7 points, 3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contests last season.

"Raul is another guard that has started since his sophomore season," Egan said. "He is one of the players that really makes us go defensively. He plays as hard as anyone I have ever coached."

Keeler, a 5-10 guard, averaged 9.4 points per game as a freshman. Egan has high hopes for this all-conference sophomore.

"Tyler started every game for us as a freshman," Egan said. "He is a very solid basketball player that can score from all spots on the floor. He plays very smart on both ends of the floor. We are expecting him to make a big jump that usually comes

between freshman and sophomore seasons."

Also returning for the Eagles are seniors Sydney Birge and Isaac Brattin; and sophomore Hunter Cook.

Birge, a 5-11 forward, saw action in all 25 games last year and averaged 4.4 points per contest.

"Sydney has done a real nice job of improving his leadership and conditioning," Egan said. "He is a capable scorer from inside and outside. He really started to come on at the end of last season and we are expecting him to really break out this season."

Brattin, a 5-9 guard, and Cook also saw action in every game as a junior. Egan expects both to see more floor time this year.

James Hughlett, a 5-10 junior, is joining the squad this year. Egan sees Hughlett eating up minutes on the floor and providing needed depth to the team.

Purdy opens the season at home against Greenwood on Tuesday.

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