New Ridgerunner head coach Will Jones knows he has a major rebuilding project on his hands.
In 2009-10 the Ridgerunners went 5-18, leading Jones, in his second year as the athletic director in Grove, to move into the head coaching position.
It’s a familiar spot for Jones, who has a total of six years head coaching experience at Pawhuska and Enid, where he compiled a 97-53 record.
Since taking over as the Ridgerunners’ head man in the spring, Jones has made the development of 6’9” 260 pound senior Chase Hilton his highest priority.
“I felt like with his size and frame, someone’s going to take a chance on him in college,” Jones said. “He’s just scratching the surface of his ability. I really made it a priority to raise his skill level.”
In addition to developing Hilton’s ability, Jones has also put an emphasis on improving his conditioning.
“He’s a guy that at the end of last year was playing 10 minutes a game. We’re working on his conditioning. A goal of mine and his has been getting his stamina up to where he can play 25 minutes per game. I feel like he has improved drastically over what he was last year. He’s a guy that can make a huge difference just being in the game because of his size, especially on the defensive end. He can change shots and rebound.”
Another point of emphasis for Jones during the offseason has been at the guard position. The Ridgerunners are young at those positions, with Trae Fairchild and Tyler Bush, both sophomores, expected to log significant minutes.
“Our guards have needed to develop their ability to handle pressure,” Jones said. “That’s been a point of emphasis in the preseason and as we approach our first game. We’re addressing that daily. That’s probably the biggest key to us having a successful season.”
One guy that Jones knows he’ll be able to count from game one is senior Trent Phillips.
“He’s a very versatile guy,” Jones said. “I use that word a lot any time I talk about him. He’s 6’1” but strong and he can do a lot of things. We’ll have him play anywhere from point guard to the four spot. He’s different from a lot of the guys we have in that he can go and make a play on his own. We’re asking him to do that a lot for us.”
Two other players Jones hopes to develop are Ryan Young and Kyle Summerfield.
“Those guys haven’t played a lot of basketball,” Jones said. “But if our younger players can stay focused on getting better everyday then we have a chance to be a really good basketball team by the end of the year. I fully expect us to have a better record than last year, but a lot of that depends on who you’re playing.”
The Ridgerunners will be tested early when they play Tulsa Edison, ranked in the top three in 5A in most major polls, in the opening round of the Tahlequah Invitational. That game will be the second of the season for Grove after they host Wagoner this Friday.
“The Tahlequah tournament is hugely upgraded over what it has been. Last year we played in it and it was a bunch of smaller schools. Now you have Edison, Broken Arrow, Muskogee. Enid is also in there.”
In addition to that, Grove will be playing in an upgraded Verdigris Valley Conference, with new members Catoosa and Hilldale joining the group.
“Catoosa is getting better,” Jones noted. “And Hilldale won 17 games last year and expects to win more this year. The conference is really, really strong.”
But for now Jones is putting the emphasis on his own team.
“I want us to get better everyday. It’s a little bit cliche, but I don’t want us to have days where we take a step back, whether it’s in practice or games. There’s not a team in the conference we can’t compete with on a given night. I don’t want to put a ceiling on our expectations.”