JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The Randolph Ro-Hawks boys basketball team has soared to one of its best starts ever - three tournament championships and 18 victories in its first 21 games.
Chalk it all up to experience.
"We have a lot of guys who know what we're trying to do," veteran head coach Tim Gendron, who has led Randolph since 1997, said. "That really makes a difference."
The Ro-Hawks' roster features nine seniors, including seven who have attended Randolph since their freshman year. Not only are they entrenched in Gendron's system, they possess the skills to successfully execute it.
"Our athleticism and quickness allow us to play pressure defense in the half court," Gendron said. "Our goal is to create havoc for your offense so your best shooters won't have the ball in their hands where they want it."
He said Randolph's multiple looks on defense "confuse the other team." As a result, the Ro-Hawks have held every team they have played this season under 50 points, including Cole, Hondo and Lutheran, the only squads to defeat them.
Gendron, whose teams have won 340 games, said this year's squad, which stands 5-1 in District 29-2A, doesn't have the "star power" or height of previous teams, including the 1999-2000 Ro-Hawks who finished 26-5, but are blessed with depth, athleticism and defensive prowess.
"We don't have a dominant scorer," he said. "We have different guys all capable of scoring."
They include two players who have the most varsity experience: 6-2 post Tyre Jones, an inside-outside threat who is also a top rebounder, and 5-10 shooting guard Gage Belyeu, a 3-point marksman.
Gendron said Jones' propensity for drawing double teams allows open looks for Ro-Hawks waiting in the wings, exemplified by a stretch of two 3-pointers and three 2-point shots knocked down on five consecutive possessions during a recent victory over the Marion Bulldogs.
The Ro-Hawks' floor general and "defensive coordinator" is 5-9 point guard Shaun Jackson, one of three sophomores on the varsity team.
"He coordinates the defense for us," Gendron said. "We put pressure on our point guard to get everybody to change defense, so the other team is constantly off-balance."
Other starters are 6-2 sophomore post Bryan London, also one of the team's top rebounders, and 6-2 senior forward Leo Blount.
Gendron can also rely on his deep bench, which includes 6-2 forward Christian Eidenschink, a senior transfer from Germany whose 3-point range and size allow him to play three positions.
"He has been a terrific addition," the coach said. "He struggled to grasp the system at first, but he's continuing to improve and be more comfortable on the floor."
Nick Carlson, a 5-10 senior, can also play three positions - point guard, shooting guard and small forward - and Damani Phillips, another 5-10 senior, is "Mr. Versatility," according to Gendron.
"He can play all five positions," he said.
Gendron also extended kudos to new assistant coach Elliott Ortiz, who succeeded longtime coach Jerry Gonzalez.
"We were blessed to replace a good coach with another good coach," he said.
Gendron called Ortiz, a 2006 Randolph graduate, "the smartest kid I've ever coached."
"He has been instrumental in helping me on the bench, making adjustments," he said. "He understands everything we do."
The Ro-Hawks enter the second round of district competition starting Tuesday, when the Brooks Academy Bengals visit the Randolph campus.
Their ultimate goal is the same as always.
"Our goal is to win district and play basketball in March," Gendron said.