On December 2nd when the Murray High Tigers open up their regular season at home against University Heights, they will be without their number two scorer from last season Ravichael Strickland. To make matters worse, they will also be without Hunter Utley, Dijon Miles, and Tommy Waldrop, all of whom suffered injuries during the football season.
Strickland’s presence in the post will be missed, but there is a replacement in place and it comes in the form of Darius Duffy.
“He’s a guy that played very sparingly for us last year because we had Ravichael who was one of the top players in the region,” head coach Dior Curtis said. “He’s athletic, he runs the floor well, and he’s a defensive presence, so I think people will be really wowed by him this year.”
The Tigers graduated six players from last year’s team but were optimistic heading into this season with the potential of having plenty of returners with varsity experience. In reality, the biggest loss from last year to this year was leadership and guys like Utley and Waldrop were expected to fill that role. With them hurt and the six seniors gone, Curtis will look to a few other guys to step up.
“I just want us to be together as a team,” Curtis said. “We’ve got a brand new nucleus of guys, after losing our senior group, so we have to play together and not worry about any of the individual things that go on. Defensively, we are going to play a lot more up-tempo this year. Of course, losing Hunter and Tommy is going to hurt our depth a little bit, and we also lost Dijon Miles. He was going to be a key piece this year. Their leadership will be missed.”
The leadership will be an ongoing theme for the Tigers early on because Curtis said that’s the thing they lose the most from last year. Not scoring, or rebounding, but leadership.
“Outside of the core group, we lost a lot of leadership,” Curtis said. “Our six seniors had been a part of the program for four years and Ravichael and Will (Lovins) were on our regional championship team as freshmen. So, we lost a lot of leadership and a lot of our other guys are going to have to step up and lead on the court.”
Gabe Taylor might be the guy that takes that role. A vocal leader on the soccer field, Taylor has the ability to contribute not just with his play but with his mentality.
The Tigers will need him early on because they have a tough schedule once again and Utley and Waldrop will likely not be cleared to play until late in December.
“We always want to play a tough non-district schedule and last year I felt like we had the toughest non-district schedule in the entire region,” Curtis said. “This year is tough as well. We start off with University Heights and Lyon County…We also go to Memphis to play a Christian Brothers team that is really talented from a private school and we want to play those tough games to get us ready for our All-A and the rest of the season.”
Those tough games are designed to prepare the Tigers for a challenging district. The Lakers return every player from last year’s team and Marshall comes in as the favorite because of Zion Harmon.
“Our district is the toughest district by far. You’ve got Murray Calloway and Marshall, and every year it’s a dog fight,” Curtis said. “This year is going to be the same way. Marshall is bringing back a lot of their guys, Calloway is bringing back every single player they had last year, and we are probably losing the most as far as senior guys on the court.”
“I expect (Chandler) Steele, (Kade) Mize, and (Cade) Butler to be some of the top players in the region this year. Murray and Calloway games are always very exciting, tight games and those guys are going to play out of their minds against us and hopefully, our guys will play out of their minds against them and we just look forward to watching them in the early season.”