Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
GAINESVILLe — The Leopards are coming home.
A little more than a week after opening the season, Gainesville will play its home opener Friday when it welcomes Vernon to the Leopards Den at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s always exciting to get back home,” Gainesville coach Eric Johns said. “We don’t get to many chances to play in front of the home crowd so we all get excited about it.”
Gainesville began the season at the Decatur Tournament last Thursday with a loss to Class 5A Midland Lee.
The Leopards had to postpone the season a bit due to the lack of players with the extended playoff run of the football team.
Now with duel-sport athletes such as Denzel Johnson, David Moore, Demetrius Franklin, De’Quan Wilford and Jonathan Mendez back in the fold the Leopards are ready to get things going again.
“It always takes two or three weeks to get back into basketball shape,” Johns said. “No one sport prepares you for the other so you have to expect that. The football season this year was a blessing and we were happy to be a part of that. Now we have to turn our attention to basketball where hopefully we can do the same thing.”
The Leopards return a wealth of talent this season from a team that went 24-9 a year ago before falling in the area playoffs to Wilmer-Hutchins.
Moore was the District 9-3A Offensive Most Valuable Player as a junior a year ago, Johnson was a first-team all-district selection and Mendez was the district’s Sophomore of the Year.
The Leopards began the year ranked No. 15 by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches and have since dropped to No. 17 with their season being pushed back.
“We talk about (expectations) almost every day,” Johns said. “These kids worked hard to be able to start the year ranked -- they know what it takes. It requires discipline and hard work. When you have those, the success will follow.”
Friday’s game will mark the first time the Leopards have played a school its own size in their first five games. Gainesville has played 5A Midland Lee and Denton Ryan as well as 4A Sherman and Ft. Worth Castleberry.
“We’ve played two 5As and two 4As and go 2-2 with as many games as we’ve had practices,” Johns said. “I’ll take that in a second considering where we are in the year. I think down the road, the outcomes of some of those games would be different, but that’s what we’re working for.”
While down the road is, well, down the road. For now, the Leopards focus is getting back into basketball shape and playing like a state-ranked team.
“I want to see us playing better basketball (against Vernon),” Johns said. “So far I’ve been mad after a win and pretty happy after losses -- that’s where we are in the year. I want to see us improve as a team and take care of business. As long as we are playing better and getting better each game, that’s what counts.”