There is something different about El Campo Ricebirds basketball. Yes, they’ve been winning, but it’s not that exactly. This year, there is a sense of confidence about the Ricebirds that’s been missing over the last few seasons.
Heading into district play, the Ricebirds (8-3) don’t have any signature wins over big-time programs. Instead, what their non-district schedule provided them was a chance to learn how to win.
“The teams might not have been the top teams that we could have played, but 8-3 in non-district, I think we’re going to be ok,” Ricebirds Coach Chris Burrow said. “They’ve surprised themselves, they didn’t know they had it in them. I always knew they had it in them. They just have to row the boat in the same direction and we’re doing that right now.”
In the Ricebirds 11 games, four games have been decided by fewer than five points, with El Campo winning three of those games. Last season, in the Ricebirds 25 games, played in five, five-point games and lost all five.
“I would say we have a lot more (confidence) than last year,” senior returner Tanner Oldag said. “We got a bunch of wins under our belt and I think we’re going to come on strong and see what we can do (in district).”
In Oldag’s three seasons as a varsity Ricebird, he’s now playing for his third different head coach. Along with Oldag, Deshard Owens, Charles Shorter and Reagan Spenrath have had to learn from three separate coaches, but this style has a different feeling.
“It just feels a lot different,” Oldag said. “It feels a lot better. It feels a lot smoother and I think everything is clicking on all cylinders.”
A problem last year for the Ricebirds was beating the press and getting the ball across the court. This year, that hasn’t been an issue. Second-year point guard Isaiah Anderson and several other ball-handlers have been able to get the ball over the half-court line, so they can run their offense.
“None of the guards are afraid to have the ball in their hand,” Burrow said. “This offense that we run, we really don’t have a true point guard. I feel confident at the different press breaks we can throw at teams.”
Once they get into the offense, the Ricebirds have a lot of different ways to score. They can drain the three-pointer, score down low with Spenrath and they have a lot of players who can drive and get into the paint.
Ricebirds basketball has been an afterthought in district play the last few years. But their start to the season has turned not only their heads but also made waves in the district.
“I do know I’ve gotten emails here and there, even from district coaches saying, whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it,” Burrow said. “That speaks volumes to the time that the kids have put (into it this year).”
District 25 is filled with heavy-hitters in Fulshear and Needville who both went to the second round last year, Wharton is just two seasons removed from a regional tournament appearance, along with Sealy, Brookshire Royal and Stafford. While El Campo has started the year hot, it’s been three seasons since they’ve picked up a district win, which is something the team is hoping will change, soon.
“It’s an absolutely tough district,” Burrow said. “We may not be first but we’re not going to be last. Let’s figure out everything we need to do to put ourselves in a good situation and let’s play for that fourth place. If we can hit the fourth place, maybe we can get lucky and we can get third. Set the goals to where they are achievable, once we’ve achieved them move the bar a little higher and higher. It’s not going to be just this year, it’s going to be over the next couple of years.”