FORT MYERS, Fla. – Marquan Botley knows that he’s got an understandable out.
No one would blame Botley and his Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) teammates if they took a “just happy to be here” approach to the City of Palms Classic.
Sure, the Lions are the defending champs, but in a tournament that’s traditionally known to feature big-name stars, the Lions are lacking star power.
In early November, the Lions lost sophomore swingman Mickey Mitchell, ranked No. 4 in the ESPN 25, after he tore his ACL playing football. Three weeks after that, Julius Randle, a senior forward who is a preseason American Family Insurance selection and ranked No. 2 in the Rivals150, went down with a fractured foot.
“To say we’ve had injury problems would definitely be an understatement,” said Botley, a senior point guard. “But we’re not coming to this tournament just to have fun; we’re coming to defend our title and win every game that we play.”
First up is Southwind (Memphis) today at 2:30 p.m.
“It’s been a rough month or so for us,” Prestonwood Christian coach Chris Mayberry said. “You’ve got Mickey out for the season before it even starts, Julius out for three months… That’s about as bad as it gets for any team. Losing your top two guys is just detrimental.”
Losing your top three is almost unheard of. Almost.
On Dec. 4, in just his second game without Mitchell and Randle, Botley pulled his hamstring in the first quarter against Homeschool North (Plano, Texas) and remained sidelined for the next four games.
Botley returned for the Lions’ loss to Plano East (Plano, Texas) on Dec. 11, but “wasn’t 100 percent healthy,” according to Mayberry.
“It was already bad when Mickey got hurt; then it was worse when Julius got hurt,” Botley said. “Then when I got hurt, it was like a bad dream. I was just thinking ‘what did we do wrong to deserve this?’ We were all looking for answers.”
Mayberry described practice on Nov. 27, the day after Randle got the news that he’d fractured his foot and would be out three months, as “one of the most somber practices we’ve ever had.”
“The guys just didn’t know how to feel,” Mayberry said. “They didn’t have their leader. They were pretty down.”
A week prior they’d seen Randle drop 29 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in the season-opening win over Madison Prep Academy (Baton Rouge, La.). Last year he led the Lions to a state title.
“It was hard for me because I felt like I’d let my guys down,” Randle said. “It’s hard to explain, but I’d just put so much work in on my game and to fracture my foot in the second game of the season didn’t seem fair at all. It’s something I had to work through and still have to work through.”
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It won’t be any easier with Randle missing one of his favorite tournaments.
“I just love the competition and the atmosphere there,” Randle said. “We’ve got enough pride to go out there and not just lay down. I know we don’t want to just let them take it. We’re gonna fight as hard as we can.”
The Lions, who now start three freshmen and two seniors, have gone 3-4 since Randle’s injury, but Mayberry was quick to point out that, losses aside, he’s begun to see a change in his team’s attitudes.
Before the season, Mayberry revealed to his team that the theme for the year would be “anything is possible with God.”
“Our saying is ‘all in’ and that’s how we’re approaching the City of Palms and the rest of the season,” Mayberry said. “Our theme is really beginning to resonate with the guys. We’re getting better.”
He said he knows that “it will be a process,” only now the team is dedicated to the process.
“We’re all in,” Botley said. “All we can do is leave it all out there on the floor. Give it everything that we’ve got and that will be enough. Everyone has a role.”
Even Randle; though, at least until he returns, it’s much different now.
“I’ll be the biggest cheerleader in the gym,” Randle said. “It won’t be easy at the City of Palms, but I’m confident in my guys.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.