Run and gun Panthers

New M-CHS basketball coach Cory Gropp installs up-tempo offense

New coach Cory Gropp runs a drill at the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball practice Tuesday night. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

New coach Cory Gropp runs a drill at the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball practice Tuesday night.

Let’s run.

The new look Panthers basketball team, with a new coach, is going to run the floor and full-court press — all game.

It’s a new counter of attack suited to Montezuma-Cortez High School’s lack of height on the court. What the Panthers lack in size and dominance in the paint, they will make up with tenacious defense and being the squad that’s most physically fit.

“We’re going to be in shape,” first-year M-CHS coach Cory Gropp said. “If the boys do it right, it’s going to be turnover city. It’s going to be fast-break, fast-break, fast-break.”

Gropp’s focus right now is getting his Panthers in tip-top shape heading into the first preseason scrimmage.

“We’re going to play hard-nosed defense with the full-court press,” Gropp said.

Senior point guard Alex Lopez will run the offense. It’s finally his time.

“We’re going to be run and gun,” Lopez said. “We’re just adjusting to what he (Gropp) wants us to do. So far, we’ve been clicking on all cylinders.”

Gropp, 28, comes from Waco, Texas, where an up-tempo style of play is the game in the prep sports crazed Lone Star State.

“We want to trap those people who can handle the ball and then people who don’t (handle the ball well), just pressure them and hopefully, they turn it over,” said Gropp about his tough defense leading to fast-break points on the offensive end. “That’s how we counter fit a lack of height.”

Senior starter Tallon Ralstin returns. He’ll see time in the low post with Brackin Whiteskunk, who can also shoot it from downtown.

Many players will have to step up to replace graduated all-conference big men Jay Rainer (16.3 points per game) and Destry Smith (9.5 ppg).

Sophomores Konnar McGee, Dayne Black and Taylor Wilson will vie for major minutes.

Lopez has embraced his role as senior captain, helping mentor the younger players.

“I’m trying to help my teammates out and push them, so they can become better,” he said. “It’s not an individual game anymore, it’s more teamwork. As long as all five of us are working together on the court, then we can really do some damage against other teams.”

The Panthers will have an unofficial scrimmage on Nov. 24, before opening the regular season at home against 2A power Igancio on Dec. 4.

“We have to beat a 2A team,” said Gropp, who is a big Baylor Bears fan. “(It will) kind of ease people’s minds about the season.”

M-CHS will hit the road to Steamboat Springs for a three-day tournament before returning home to host the third annual Four Corners Classic. Confirmed schools in the six-team tourney are Bayfield, Monticello (Utah) and Miyamura (Gallup, N.M.). A tourney in Palisade and a road contest at Bayfield conclude the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Southwestern League play starts at 5A Fruita Monument on Jan. 18, 2013.

The 4A Panthers came up just short of the postseason the past two years under coach Eric White.

It’s postseason or bust this year.

“I told the boys, we definitely need to make top-three in districts,” Gropp said. “If you’re (at least) third-place in districts, you play in a bi-regional and then you go to regional playoffs.”

Lopez would love nothing more than to end his high school career in the postseason.

“I’m sure they (fans) want to see some playoffs. That’s what we’re shooting for right now, is the postseason,” he said. “We just got to leave everything on the court. We got to practice like we’re going to play. We got to all be on the same page, so we can go to the postseason. We want to win.”

Let the basketball games begin.

bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

Kaleb Milligan shoots, as Dayne Black defends Tuesday night at basketball practice for the Panthers. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Kaleb Milligan shoots, as Dayne Black defends Tuesday night at basketball practice for the Panthers.