It’s been five years and five coaches since the El Campo Ricebirds’ basketball team made the playoffs, but players hope 2021 will be different.
Since their first-round playoff loss to West Columbia ending the 2015-2016 season, the Ricebirds have finished 30-82 overall and 4-41 in district play over the last four years.
“(The last few years), we didn’t have any fans. Nobody came to watch us at all,” junior point guard Isaiah Anderson said. “It was really boring. It’s hard to come out and watch someone lose every Tuesday and Friday.”
“There was no set-up like in football,” senior post Reagan Spenrath said. “From seventh grade to eighth grade, they learn the plays and learn how the coaches are going to be. I’ve had a different coach every year and each one’s (philosophy) goes against the other ones.”
Anderson, Spenrath and junior Trinceton Foley have been the mainstays in El Campo basketball playing year in, year out despite having to start from scratch every season.
This year is no different with coach Kevin Lewis, who’s new to El Campo. Instead of struggling against smaller schools, however, the Ricebirds are holding their own and beating schools in the same classification.
Lewis’ coaching, along with the growth, experience, chemistry from returners and a tougher mindset carried over from football, has turned El Campo from boring to enjoyable over the preseason.
“Going through the offseason process everybody got on the weights, everybody got stronger, everybody got their handles better. We’ve been in the gym getting better and we’ve gotten our chemistry better,” Anderson said.
The Ricebirds lost three games to start the season. Since adding senior Charles Shorter, sophomore Rueben Owens II, and Anderson, when football ended, they’ve lost one game.
In the loss, Shorter was out with injury. With their complete team, El Campo is undefeated.
“They brought a different style of toughness and they brought a fierce mentality from the football field,” Lewis said. “We did a complete 180 once they stepped on the court.”
The toughness and aggression of football players has fit right in with Spenrath’s skill. The senior post has come into his own this year, playing closer to the basket. He’s averaging close to a double-double every game with 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game.
With a 9-4 record, El Campo has already matched the number of wins they had all last season.
The early good play, however, will mean nothing if, come district, the Ricebirds again have trouble getting wins.
This year feels different, for those who’ve been involved in past teams.
“I feel like we have a lot better experience for district,” Spenrath said. “(Years past), we played a lot of (smaller schools) and then went straight against Wharton. (We’re excited), we have a really good chance at winning district games and going further than we’ve been.”
El Campo will get their first shot at a district win on Jan. 12 when they play Bellville at Ricebird Gym.