The Collinsville Kahoks entered the start of the Southwestern Conference season last week knowing that they are probably playing for second place.
And in a league which features the defending Class 4A state champion Belleville West Maroons along with another potential state power in East St. Louis, a second place finish would be an excellent accomplishment in itself.
“I know anything can happen. But barring any injuries or anything unforeseen happening, I think (Belleville) West is going to be awfully difficult to beat,” Collinsville coach Darin Lee said. “Everybody talks about EJ (Liddell) and their offense, but I thought the key for them was defense last year.”
So far in the 2018-19 season, defense has also been a key for the Kahoks. With wins over O’Fallon and St. Louis St. Mary’s last weekend, Collinsville improved to 7-0 and has given up over 50 points just once — Collinsville is allowing an average of 39 points per game.
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The Kahoks have one of the top players in the St. Louis area in junior guard Ray’Sean Taylor, as well as several other talented underclassmen.
But to Lee, the reason for the Kahoks fast start begins on defense. Collinsville opened its season by finishing 5-0 in winning the Herrin Tournament.
In four of those wins, Collinsville did not give up more than 33 points.
“Our defense in the first five games at Herrin was very good,’’ Lee said. “We were able to get points off turnovers without giving up much on the other end of the court. That’s difficult to do,’’ Lee said. “Our offensive execution was also good.”
“We do have a lot of guys back from last year and we think we should have a successful season. Our goals are to be in the top two or three n the Southwestern Conference and to win a regional championship. We certainly think those are realistic goals.”
In the 6-1 Taylor, the Kahoks have a player who will be a catalyst in helping Collinsville reach those goals. A first team all-Southwestern Conference and News-Democrat Large School all-area selection last season when he averaged 16.6 points, Taylor is scoring at a 21 point clip this season and is without question the Kahoks go-to player.
“Ray’Sean has grown, gotten bigger and matured from last season. He has the ability to shoot it well from the perimeter as he did at Herrin,” Lee said. “But he is also able to take the ball to the basket and pass.”
Forward Marshall Harrison and guard Zane Baker are the lone seniors among the Kahoks’ top six players. Harrison, who was an all-tournament selection at the Herrin event, is 6-3 and has a nice mid-range game. Baker is a tough, hard nosed and smart player who was a standout on the Kahoks soccer team which advanced to the state tournament this fall.
Junior guard Cawhan Smith is a key on the defensive end and can add offense with his speed and quickness.
“I just thought Cawhan had a great tournament at Herrin. He had 26 steals in five games and was just a defensive force,” Lee said. “He is super quick and has great hands. Also, he’s a player we can move to the point guard if we want to move Ray’Sean.”
In the post, Collinsville has juniors Aaron Molton and Keydrian Jones. Both are 6-5, strong, agile and have the ability to rebound, score and play good defense.
“These kids have played a lot of varsity basketball. Some of them have played varsity for two years already,’’ Lee said. “Keydrian is one those kids and his defense has gotten a lot better. Molton is also a big kid who is left-handed and give us a nice look inside with Keydrian.”
While Belleville West and East St. Louis both feature senior dominated lineups, Collinsville’s four of its top six players are juniors and are figures to be a force in the St. Louis area during the next two years.
“You would think that with the kids we have coming back next year that we could have a strong team,” Lee said. “But as a coach you don’t look at it like that. You look at it one practice, one game at a time.”