Photo: Coach Shane Oakley and the Northwest Rangers are looking to rebound from a five-win mark last season, with a goal to return to the postseason. (Credit: Courtney Crosby/PRCC Athletics)
Credit: NWCC Sports Information
Last season was one filled with ups and downs for the Northwest men’s basketball team. Unfortunately, there seemed to be more downs than ups at times for coach Shane Oakley‘s squad.
Now entering his sixth season at the helm of the Rangers, Oakley has had three winning seasons, including an 18-win campaign just two years ago. However, last season yielded just five wins and Northwest missed out on the postseason for just the second time since Oakley began his tenure in 2018.
“We had some good guys, but also several key injuries at the start of the season,” Oakley said, reflecting on last year. “We just never could quite put it together, but last year helped me to be where we are in a result-based world. It also helped me to look back and realize that even though we didn’t have the best year, we did have some good players that went on to do good things and play at four-year schools. As a coach, when you do struggle, you go back and re-evaluate everything and obviously, it starts with me.”
Despite the struggles of last year, a new season brings with it new promise. A talented group of freshman arrivals have only helped to add to the excitement of the 2023-24 campaign, and Oakley is pleased with what he has seen so far in preseason practice.
“We had to go out and get some better players, and I think we have done that,” Oakley said. “Athletically, we are longer and more talented. There is some inexperience that comes with that, but the good thing is that we have sophomores returning that can help provide some experience there. Between them and the talent we have coming in, the key is going to be whether or not we can put that together and be better. It may take a few games to figure it out, but I like this team and I think everyone will see this team get better throughout the season.”
Although many of the returning sophomores only received a handful of starts, the trio of Devin Moore, Darren Davis and Terry Joyner played in nearly every game off the bench, with Moore and Davis each earning 12 starts. A Lamar native, Moore finished fourth on the team in scoring with 7.9 points per game, while leading the team in rebounds per game (7.0) and collecting 23 assists, good for third in that category.
Additionally, Davis finished fifth with 3.5 rebounds per game and fellow sophomore Marquavous Jones ranked fifth in scoring, notching 6.2 points per game.
“They played significant minutes, even coming off the bench,” Oakley said, of his returning sophomores. “They have a bad taste in their mouths from last year and they’ve been attentive, trying to make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes we had. I like their mindset.”
Circling back to the incoming freshmen, Oakley and assistant coach Jamar McKnight bring in seven new faces, along with redshirt Nolan Wells, who missed all of last season with an injury. The new Rangers are a mix of talent from the Magnolia State and across state lines, including Louisiana natives Shavurdacour Nicholas (New Orleans) and Ja’Quise Richmond (Lake Charles).
“He’s athletic and is going to help us a lot,” Oakley said, regarding Nicholas. “We have to figure out what he can do in competition, but he has the potential to be a really good player. Ja’Quise is 6’7 and will have to play some inside out for us, but he’s extremely athletic. He is really good on defense as well.”
From inside the state, Oakley brings in local standouts Khalil Washington (Senatobia) and Hayden Drumwright (Magnolia Heights), while also welcoming Biloxi native Keanu Patrick, Tyler Spears (Hattiesburg) and Choctaw Central combo player Thomas Tangle.
“He can handle it and he can shoot well,” Oakley continued, on Tangle. “He is sneaky athletic and a really good all-around player. Keanu is long, he can really shoot it and he can cause some mismatches.”
“Overall, our talent level is better,” Oakley added. “We are longer and more athletic, so hopefully, the length helps to guard and rebound on defense. On offense, we’re hoping for the length to help us make plays and make shots. We also have a lot more depth this season. I’m excited about our team and I’m anxious to get started.”
Northwest will open its season with three games in four days right out of the gate. The Rangers tip things off this weekend in the ASU Mid-South Greyhound Classic, facing off against National Park College on Friday evening and host Arkansas State Mid-South on Saturday afternoon, before wrapping up the stretch with a home contest on Monday evening against Dyersburg State.
From there, Oakley’s squad will face ASU Mid-South again and a slew of familiar MACCC opponents in non-conference games, before finally opening up true conference play on January 18 against Southwest Mississippi. Prior to Christmas Break, Northwest will also take part in the Northeast-hosted Harvey Childers Classic in Booneville on December 8-9, taking on Motlow State and State Fair.
“Dyersburg State has a new coaching staff, so I don’t know much about what they currently have,” Oakley said, regarding his non-conference slate. “(But) that’s been a good program the last several seasons, so I expect both of those games to be a battle. We have some conference teams on the non-conference schedule as well and the tournament at Northeast will be a tough test before the break. I am excited about those games (at Northeast) in December, because we get to play some teams that we don’t usually see. That will help tell us a lot about where we are before coming back for conference play.”
Last season, Meridian beat out the usual MACCC juggernauts in winning the region tournament. Although the Eagles will certainly be a force to be reckoned with once again, there are no off nights in conference play, especially with road trips lined up to Pearl River, Itawamba and Copiah-Lincoln.
“Our conference is so balanced, year in and year out,” Oakley said. “Pearl River and Northeast have been really good, along with East Mississippi. There are a lot of talented, well-coached teams in this conference. It will be a challenge every night for us. There are no cupcakes in this conference. You can get beat by any team on any given night.”
Improvement is the obvious goal for Oakley for this season, but with that also comes an expectation of returning back to the postseason.
“Your top goal is to always win a championship, whether that’s a region championship or a national title,” Oakley said. “(But) you have to start by winning your home games. Protect your court and win your home games, and that will get you in the playoffs. That’s probably our top goal. Once you make the playoffs, you extend your season and who knows what can happen? You get hot at the right time and everything clicks, and that gives you a chance. We want to set ourselves up for a run at the end of the season where we’re playing our best basketball.”
“It’s a long season, but it goes by quick,” Oakley added. “We’re excited about what this team is capable of, and we’re looking to put our best foot forward and have a great year.”
Following this weekend’s games in the ASU Mid-South Classic, Northwest will open the home portion of the schedule on Monday, November 6 against Dyersburg State. Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 P.M., with all home contests carried live on Ranger TV and Action News 5 Plus.