KEEGAN SPURLIN

Sophomore • 6-1 • Forward

Many of the faces are the same for this year’s Houston boys’ basketball team. But there are also some important new ones.

They start at the top with Rob Coffey, who takes over the reigns of the program as the seventh head coach in eight seasons. Also new to this year’s version of the Tigers is a talented sophomore class that will provide some much-needed backup to the core of four returning starters.

It’s a combination Coffey hopes will continue to push the program forward. Houston went 6-19 last year under coach Richard Rose to win more games than the previous two seasons combined. It was a positive step for a team that last won a conference title in 1989 and district championship in 1984.

“I want to see constant improvement,” said Coffey, a 2000 Nixa High School graduate who begins his first stint as a varsity head coach. “Where I’m from, we don’t necessarily measure that by wins and losses. You can win and still not be successful.

“We want to have a game plan every night, and we want to go out and execute it.”

Highlighting Houston’s returning starters is senior Devin Coulter, who averaged 21.0 points per game and reached double figures in all but one contest last year. He made 76 3-pointers –– the second-most by a HHS player the past decade.

Also returning is guard Tanner Smith, small forward Aaron Cantrell and post player Kolby Walker.

Three other seniors –– C.J. Theriot, Tyler Best and Alex Henry –– join the varsity team for the first time.

Sophomore Keegan Spurlin, who started at times last season as a freshman, will anchor the post. Four of his fellow sophomore classmates –– Kobe Sutton, Dylan Coulter, Skylur Malam and Nathan Poynter –– will see time on both the varsity and junior varsity levels.

“That entire sophomore class is playing well,” Coffey said. “They’re all going to help us.”

Coffey hopes depth, which was an issue last year as Tigers finished with just six varsity players, will be a strength this year. He said it will be a necessity to have fresh bodies to run his four out, one in motion offense.

“Last year we many times ran out of gas because we didn’t have any depth,” Coffey said. “I hope that will be a strength for us this year.”

The team’s one loss was a big one. Coffey said he may use a point-guard-by-committee to replace Weston Walker, who graduated as a three-year starter.

Defensively, the Tigers will play mostly man-to-man.

The 2013-’14 season tips off earlier than most years for Houston. The Tigers are hosting a chili dinner and scrimmage tonight (Thursday) and participating in a jamboree Friday at Willow Springs. The season begins on Tuesday when Houston faces Cuba inside Hiett Gymnasium.

Because of his late hiring –– Coffey was named coach in late June –– and the revolving door of head coaches, Coffey said he has mostly emphasized playing hard and together.

“I’m trying not to overcomplicate things for them,” he said. “These guys have had to learn something new every year their entire careers.”

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