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Clayton Basketball Preview: Defense Gets Focus Absent All-Staters Thomas, Smith

The Greyhounds were conference and district champions last season, when they went 22-7. Now, the boys hope to defend those crowns when a new campaign begins with a trip to Rolla on Nov. 28.

For the boys varsity basketball team, last season was a magic carpet ride. It ended with a 22-7 record for the Greyhounds, a set of conference and district championship titles won on their home floor, and two players ending the year with all-state honors from the statewide coaches association.

But that was last year, and stars Christian Thomas (Loyola University Chicago) and Ahmad Smith (Webster University) are now doing their thing in the college ranks.

That means this season, new Greyhound talents will have to emerge.

“Those two guys averaged nearly 45 points a game,” Clayton head basketball coach Ryan Luhning said. “So sometimes we could win games just with our offense. But I told the guys this year, we don’t have that kind of scoring. So we’re going to have to win games with our defense.”

And it's been defense, defense and more defense that the Greyhounds have worked on since the start of preseason training camp Oct. 31.

Luhning said the leaders on the floor so far have been returning guards Clayton Buchanan, Charlie Harned and Tyler Walker.

Those three combined to average fewer than half the number of points Thomas and Smith scored last season.

But Luhning believes this year’s top trio is a group he can absolutely win with.

“When you lose 45 points a game, you can’t just replace that,” the coach said. “But when you have three good guards like we do, you can really do a lot of different things.

“We won’t be able to just take any kind of wild shot, and know Christian Thomas will be there to get the rebound and lay it back in. But we can be aggressive and still take smarter shots. I’m really excited about this team we have this year.”

The Greyhounds haven’t set their starting lineup just yet. But Luhning identified juniors A.J. Joseph, Aaron Adams and Adam Laxon, along with sophomore Nick Bax and freshman Mitch Elliott, as players he expects to contribute on the floor.

“We won 17 games three years ago, 18 the year after that and 22 last year,” Luhning said. “So Clayton basketball is definitely on an upward swing. We’re not going to surprise anybody any more. Teams are going to play us hard, and we have to be ready to match that every night.”

Clayton's 2011-12 hoops season officially tips off Saturday, when the Greyhounds travel to Rolla to play in the Key Sport Tip Off Classic at Rolla High School.

Both the Greyhounds’ boys and girls teams will play Rolla that day. A girls game is scheduled for 3 p.m., and a boys game is set to begin at 4:30 p.m.

When the Clayton boys get back home, they’ll begin play in the weeklong Vianney Tournament on Monday. Their first home game is scheduled Dec. 6 against Priory.

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