Last year, Raiders basketball experienced something it hopes is an anomaly: the first losing season in 48 years under head coach Gene Bess. This year, Bess sees several new players and a different mindset, something he feels can lead to vast improvements. “I think the biggest difference in this year’s team is attitude,” Bess said. “Last couple years, we just really didn’t do the little things right. Last year, especially, we got down to six or seven men, and then you really don’t have any control over anything. “This bunch this year, … they’re just playing harder and acting more mature, and that’s going to be a big difference maker.” Bess admits his focus wasn’t as sharp in the past year to two since he was ailing from a bad knee. “That was enough to kind of predispose me; I had a hard time just concentrating,” Bess said. His knee has since been fixed, and that allowed him to “get back to basics” and regain his focus on the season ahead. This year’s group of sophomores will be looked to for leadership on the court, specifically a pair from Poplar Bluff. Bess said sophomore Willie Lucas and redshirt sophomore Chris Stocks know the area and know the program’s culture and tradition, which will allow them to step up and lead by example for the younger players. “A lot of these kids we’ve been bringing in here have one thought in mind, and that was to get their two years over with here and then go big,” Bess said. “I think these guys understand that they owe something to this community, and they’re going to provide the kind of leadership to the younger guys that will kind of instill the desire from the team to do really well as a team.” That fixed attitude from the group has led to harder play in practice, something Bess noticed in the first week back. As far as the product on the court, Bess is looking to run and gun. “We’re trying to go up-tempo,” Bess said. “(NBA coach Mike D’Antoni) down at the Houston Rockets, he’s kind of changed the game. You have a lot of people on all levels that are really trying to get the ball up the floor quicker.” With a faster pace comes the need to get back and set up quickly on defense, something Bess said hurt the team the last couple of seasons. This year, he hopes to control the game defensively as a way to complement the faster offensive speed. “You can set the tone on defense. I normally think you can dictate on defense better than you can on offense,” Bess said. Come January, the Raiders should be setting up shop in their new gymnasium at the Libla Family Sports Complex. “That new building is going to zap us a little bit, too, I think. It’ll help us,” Bess said. Three Rivers will play in its first jamboree Oct. 6 in Dallas. Its regular season will get underway at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 against North Lake College in the 1st Midwest Bank Classic.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic