COLUMBIA — Douglass junior Tanner Cassil’s basketball game is simple: rebound, play good defense and provide his team with a little offense.
His play has become that much more important for the Bulldogs since 6-foot-6 senior center Steven Sibley was dismissed from the team in mid-February.
Cassil, who is 6-1, has done his best to fill the void that Sibley left, producing double-digit totals in points and rebounds in each of the Bulldogs' past three games.
“Coach said he needed people to step up,” said Cassil, noting the many player suspensions his team has endured this season. “As we went through the year we needed more security, more people to rely on..”
Cassil’s play will be vital to the Bulldogs (11-12) in their game against Fayette (16-8) in Class 2 District 5 play at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Sturgeon High School.
Cassil's recent success at Douglass has not come easily.
After struggling with his grades at Jefferson Junior High, Cassil came to Douglass during the spring semester of his freshman year. He showed significant promise on the junior varsity team as a sophomore, and Bulldogs coach Lynn Allen had high expectations for Cassil this season.
“We saw a lot of promise in him. We just naturally assumed he’d jump in his junior year and be really be a stud for us,” Allen said.
But that didn’t happen. Cassil struggled to score and rebound.
“We were a little disappointed in his play early, and I think he was too,” Allen said.
When Sibley was dismissed, a more motivated Cassil emerged.
“All of a sudden at the end of January, his game just took off to a new level,” Allen said. “All of the little things he was doing in practice started to pay off for him.”
Cassil attributes some of his recent success to advice his father gave him.
“My dad said I needed to be more aggressive, and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Cassil said.
Cameron Riley, Cassil’s father, has been influential in his son’s life, giving him advice and direction throughout his life. The two have become closer since Cassil’s mother, Christina Cassil, moved to St. Louis when he was in third grade. Tanner Cassil said he only talks to his mother about once a year, but he spends lots of time with Riley.
“We used to go fishing and play basketball a lot,” Cassil said.
Riley played for the MU football team from 1982-1987 as a defensive back. While he encouraged his son to play football, Cassil says his father isn’t pushy about it.
“He wanted me to play this year (at Hickman), but I think it’s a little too late to get started,” Cassil said.
While Cassil does not have any aspirations to play football, he does have a couple of NBA stars he would like to imitate.
“I wish I had shot like Ray Allen and played defense like Kevin Garnett,” Cassil said, laughing.
When Cassil is not watching his beloved Boston Celtics, he probably is working vigorously on other things.
He is one of the select students at Douglass that are allowed to work at Truman Veteran’s Hospital. His best friend on the team, senior Brandon Gleason, also works with him at the hospital. The two do a number of things at the hospital, ranging from playing poker with the veterans or simply giving the veterans somebody to talk to.
“No day is truly the same,” Cassil said.
For right now, Cassil’s focus is on bringing home a district championship to Douglass. The task won’t be easy for Cassil and the Bulldogs, who are the No. 6 seed in the eight-team tournament. Allen said he is unsure what to expect.
“We’re kind of an unknown quantity,” he said.