Coach Ty Tabor’s “attack-system” of basketball is alive and well in Graford, and the Rabbits look like they are a team that could make a very deep run in the state playoffs this season.
Graford opened District 21-A basketball action Friday night with its best offensive output of the season and hung 100 points on Woodson as the Rabbits outgunned the Cowboys 104-17.
Bryson didn’t try and stall to keep possession away from Rabbits as Graford’s defense attacked and created turnovers and scores from the Cowboy’s miscues.
Tabor’s attack-system isn’t just about scoring points, and Graford has held an opponent to less than 17 points this season. In their first game after the Christmas break, the Rabbits traveled to Windthorst and limited the 2-A Trojans to four points a quarter in a 51-16 win.
“Our system is play hard, smart and fast,” Tabor said. “Our mantra is ‘attack.’”
The plan is to attack from all over the court and assault all aspects of the game with ultra-aggressive penetration to the paint and bombing from the perimeter. The defense is-in-your-face and designed to create points off turnovers.
One would expect the Rabbits to have shown some rust playing against Windthorst because of the holidays, but the 2019-20 squad is the most defensively-committed team Tabor has coached, and that commitment carries over into player-led practices, pick up games and weightlifting.
There was raw nervous energy during practice last week as Tabor walked the Rabbits through some defensive drills. Every minute or so, one player would jaunt to the end of the court to jump and grab the rim. There are four players on this Class 1-A squad who can dunk in a game situation.
The Lady Rabbits are practicing in the “game gym” on the other side of the wall, and watching the Rabbits workout gives one the feeling the practice gym isn’t big enough to contain Graford’s style of play.
There’s a district win under their belts, but Graford basketball has become so much more than winning a district game.
“If we were out in the bi-district round of the playoffs, people would be looking for my head,” Tabor said.
If that were to happen, Tabor would be a victim of his own success after seven regional tournament trips and two state tournaments in his nine years coaching the Rabbits. He’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 career wins, and he eludes a definite answer as to how many victories he has by turning the talk toward his team.
He’s had three sons play for him, and along the way, he has turned Graford’s point guard position into a basketball hybrid, much like a quarterback running the spread offense in football.
“There’s a good deal of pressure on our point guard because of how we play offense and things center around good play from that position,” Tabor said.
Micah Manley (topped 1,000 points scoring Friday night) runs Graford’s offense and is a huge scoring threat from anywhere on the court, but it’s his decision making that is his best asset.
Those decisions have to be lightning fast as Graford’s attacking style is all about beating their opponents to the punch.
While Graford does put a great deal of emphasis on the point-guard position, the Rabbits are a multi-faceted team with the capability to score from anywhere on the court – especially in the paint.
In the key is where opponents are likely to find 6-4 forward Xavier Harrison, a scoring player with the capability of posting up under the basket and grabbing rebounds. Harrison is the teams’ scoring leader and is on the radar of college scouts because of his offensive and defensive skills after all-state honors last year.
Harrison, Manley and Tanner Ford have stepped into leadership roles for the Rabbits this season, and while not overly vocal, the intensity of their play shows they lead by example rather than talk.
Graford is playing perhaps its beefiest schedule ever this season with trips to high-level tournaments like the Fantasy of Lights and Martin’s Mill. Having worked their way to the top of the ladder of 1-A basketball sometimes makes it tough to establish a balanced schedule a coach needs.
Tabor wants his team to be challenged, but isn’t there is also that fine line where a coach can hurt his team’s confidence?
“The team and our fans know that we are going to be playing up when we take part in the tournaments,” Tabor said. “We need those harder teams if we want to continue to improve.”
The Rabbits have a lofty ranking at No. 3 in Class 1-A basketball and an 18-6 overall record. Having an undefeated season is something that never crosses Tabor’s mind. Sure he could stack his schedule with a bunch of teams the Rabbits could run by, but that won’t help Graford learn.
“You never lose a basketball game if you can walk off the court having learned something,” Tabor said. “Losses teach you about your team’s capabilities and how to get better.”
The Rabbits’ most significant capability this season has been the ability to be multi-faceted on offense where guards can go from dropping 13 three-pointers on an opponent to scoring just three points the next night, and Graford’s scoring average doesn’t miss a beat.
All those long-distance shots and the fancy footwork inside the paint on offense scoring lots of points are impressive and even flashy at times, but it’s still the Rabbit’s commitment to defense that gives Tabor his best feeling about this team.
“This has been my best team regarding its commitment to defense,” Tabor said. “We want to get those steals and rebounds, and the kids work hard at it. These kids have bought into what we are doing and they remain committed to succeeding.”
Success has different levels of meaning for high school teams, and for the Rabbits, it’s about getting past Lipan. The Indians have topped Graford the last three years at the regional tournament, and it appears another round with Lipan is on the horizon this season.
Lipan is 15-9 and ranked 14 spots below the Rabbits at No. 17 in the TABC poll. The Indians also play a beefed-up schedule, and there’s not much difference in their programs when it comes to a winning tradition.
While another matchup against Lipan may be highly anticipated, Tabor isn’t allowing himself or his team to look past any of their opponents.
“We, of course, have goals as a team, and this year has been no different,” Tabor said. “Right now, it’s about going undefeated in district and getting ourselves into a position where we have those opportunities in the playoffs.”
The 2019-2020 Rabbits basketball team includes Marc Matthews, Micah Manley, Teagan Ford, Dustin Matthews, Josue Torres, Robert Kincaid, Tanner, Ford, Levi Butler, Cody Lemley Xavier Harrison
Tabors assistants include Jarod Wesmoreland and statistician Quinn Tabor who is learning the coaching ropes from dear old Dad.