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Plano East impresses at TABC Showcase

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Sports

There was a buzz in the air Sunday for Plano East Senior High School at the TABC Showcase at Southwest Athletic Center in Carrollton.

Taking on three teams that finished in the final eight last March, Plano East won two out of three games and looked like one of the weekend’s best teams. While little was known about the Panthers before the tournament, having lost in the area round to eventual state champions Lake Highlands, they’ve quickly risen to one of the team’s to beat heading into the summer.

Head coach Matt Wester was pleased with the performances overall in three games, knowing there’s still plenty of work left before crowing a state champion next March.

“You want to set a goal that’s hard to reach,” Wester said. “No road is easy, but winning our region is within it. I don’t want to pressure them under those expectations – we still want to have fun playing basketball.”

Opening the tournament Saturday afternoon, Plano East faced off against San Antonio Brennan.

The Bears lost just eight games last season and fell in the state semifinals against Beaumont United. With plenty of returning talent, including four-star rising junior Kingston Flemings, Brennan was a much-anticipated team to watch in the new season.

The Panthers were ready, however, jumping out to a quick lead and never looking back, winning 66-42. East’s defensive pressure led to several chances in transition, as they led 20-5 in the early goings before a quick Brennan timeout.

Throughout the tournament, the Panthers saw a nice blend of size, skill, and talent from their opposition, providing a benchmark for competing at the highest level. One of the keys to the tournament was limiting turnovers, especially in transition that could lead to quick baskets the other way.

“All of these teams provided good ball pressure,” Wester said. “You’re not going to be surprised by it at this level. Going into these games, sometimes we’ll face a four or five-star player, and that’s just a mismatch. We did a better job Sunday, adjusting to accounting for top players and making it a group effort to get stops.”

On the other end, DJ Hall was the player to watch in the opening win, showing off a plethora of post moves and talent around the basket. The 6-foot-7 rising junior led the team in scoring in game one and proved to be the go-to guy on the offensive end when necessary.

Hall replaced graduating senior Corey Upkins in the starting lineup this season and showed the skill that makes him a player to watch out for in 2024.

“He’s just more confidence in his game,” Wester said. “He was a reserve for us, but we needed him in four-minute spurts. Now, he’s one of the focal points of our offense through post-ups, screens and everything else. He’s been able to do that and shoot the ball well.”

The Panthers lost their only game Saturday afternoon when they fell to 2023 state runner-up Beaumont United in a 66-58 defeat.

East was given any favors by the schedule in their second game, playing just an hour after their first game finished. Despite that disadvantage, the Panthers were up double digits for most of the contest before running out of gas, and Beaumont United went on a late run to seal the win.

Their final game was Sunday afternoon, and Plano East made it a 2-1 weekend by defeating Round Rock Stony Point 75-55. The Tigers went 32-2 last season and returned four-star forward Josiah Moseley.

To counter Moseley’s frame, the Panthers sent several double teams at him in the post, forcing many turnovers and fast breaks for themselves. Despite a close first half, reigning District 6-6A Co-MVP Jordan Mizell helped East on a big first-half run to put the team up double digits at the break.

At various points throughout the game, Mizell, Jon Tran and Narit Chotikavanic provided a scoring spark to halt any late Stony Point runs and seal the win. That depth of 10 rotation players shows how the Panthers can overwhelm any opponent at the state level.

“We’re working on just playing through our rotations,” Wester said. “As the game goes on, you find the hot hand and ride it. We have a lot of guys who can make good plays and score points, so we have some options to work with.”

Plano East now heads into summer workouts, with several months to go before the start of the new regular season. The Panthers could end up one of the top-ranked teams in state heading into the preseason, showing off their talent on one of the biggest stages.

“It’s just such a pleasure to coach these guys,” Wester said. “It’s a special group of kids. They play great defense, pass the ball and do what I ask. They’ve played the game the right way so far.”

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