Before leaving West Point Military Academy, General Douglas MacArthur gave his farewell speech to the Corps of Cadets, in which he said, “Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war, there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be Duty, Honor, Country.”
Well the Glen Rose Runnin’ Tigers may not be fighting for the United States of America, but they are entering a basketball battlefield where there is a will to win, and there truly is no substitute for victory.
For the last three seasons, the Tigers’ lineup has been as solid as they come with Ryan Bruce, Derek Thompson, Nathan Yeager and, with the exception of an injury-plagued junior season, Waylon White.
These four Tiger mainstays will lead their troops to a war where there are no more second chances.
“(I think about it) all the time, except for when I’m taking a test,” said Yeager. “Last year we could say that we still have next year, but we don’t have that anymore. This is it for us.”
These Tigers have been around the block a time or two together, and this year marks the final opportunity for them to leave their legacy in the Runnin’ Tigers record books.
“My daughter is their age, so I’ve known these guys since they were little tiny boys,” said Glen Rose varsity assistant coach Richard Dye, who is in his 20th season at Glen Rose. “I’ve watched them play pee-wee basketball. I coached them when they were freshmen, and they played well together then, probably as good as anybody I have ever had.”
“(Our experience) gives us a big advantage because we have the experience and we know what it takes to win,” said Thompson.
“I know when Ryan is going to throw behind his back while he’s running forward. It’s kind of like we read each others minds,” said White before Bruce added, “We each know what we’re going to do, before we even do it.”
The Glen Rose foursome have helped raise the level of an already storied basketball program by sending the Tigers into the playoffs for the 14th time in 16 seasons.
“When I came here in 1989, we were in desperate need of trying to build a program from the ground up,” said Dye. “I tried to get it started at the junior high level, and we really worked hard at, not just playing basketball, but coaching it. We were able to get some of that across. Then after two years (as head coach), I decided we needed more help - and that I would be that help - and I’ve been doing that ever since. It took us a while to get to where we could be a playoff contender every year, but we’ve gotten there and a lot of the credit goes to Joe Crouch, who was the athletic director in the late 80s and early 90s, and he was committed to having a good basketball program here.”
The Tigers switched districts prior to the start of the season and were placed in Class 3A Region I, but answered by finishing the regular season with a 9-1 District 7-3A record, a district co-championship and a No. 18 ranking in the most recent Texas Association of Basketball Coaches State Poll.
“A lot of people said that coming into the season, Region I was going to be a cakewalk compared to Region II, but that has proven to be just the opposite,” said head coach Wayne Roberts. “(Lubbock) Estacado dropped down from 4A and they’re No. 2. Burkburnett is No. 6 and they’ve been No. 2 for over half of the year. But we have played better against better competition, and I have the confidence in these guys to raise their level of competition in the playoffs.”
Glen Rose enters the playoffs with no existing serious injuries, and a strong supporting cast.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a great group of guys,” said Roberts. “Colt (Plaster) and Austin (Eschbach) have both started, they bring different things to the table. They play defense and they can run. We don’t depend on them so much for scoring, but they complement each other very well. Then you have Jorge Espino who is a spark defensively and makes a lot of things happen. At post, we have Ty Taylor and Immanuel Morales, and both have come in and done really good things. Ty can also switch over and play the three, which gives us more versatility. And RJ Nowak came in the other day and he’s probably one of the best shooters on the team, he just needs to get a little more confidence in himself. We usually play nine players a game, and they have been great role players. They understand their roles.”
Glen Rose has the experience and the talent, facts that are certainly not lost on Roberts as he prepares his team for a difficult road to the regional tournament.
“Experience is always good, but a lot of times it depends on the momentum going into the playoffs,” said Roberts. “A lot of the troubles we’ve had is playing consistently in the first half. We’ve played pretty good second half basketball for quite a while. In the playoffs, it’s going to help us because they’ve been there before. They know, being seniors, that if they don’t take care of business they’re through. That should help with the intensity.”
With regional foes like Burkburnett and Lubbock Estacado lurking in the bracket, no one in Glen Rose is mapping out a trip to Austin right away, but the idea sits on the back-burner in the minds of Tiger fans and coaches.
“(A state championship’s) not out of the question,” said Roberts. “It would be a big surprise. We know if we get there, we will have faced a very tough region, with six teams rated above us at one time. It’s going to take a lot of hard work just to get to the regional tournament, and then if we were to get through that and to Austin, I think we could face any challenge that’s in front of us.”
Regardless of the various possibilities, Roberts and company know there is no more “next year” for this Tiger squad.
“When you’re with those guys for such a long period of time, you know what they’re capable of, you know when they’re not working hard enough and it’s one of the things coaches cherish. When you get to coach them on the varsity level for that long, it makes it that much more special,” said Roberts. “But you’re always going to lose guys. It’s part of the job.”
“I think all of our parents have said, ‘Wait until y’all’s senior year. That’s going to be the year.’ I guess we’ll find out,” said White.
Roberts and Dye have been able to groom these four athletes at the varsity level for four seasons, but now the “will to win, the sure knowledge that in war, there is no substitute for victory,” has never rang more true.
There is no tomorrow.