Wins are important at any time of the season no matter the sport, but Stephenville head boys basketball coach Mike Dacus has a full laundry list of other early season tasks he hopes to see the Yellow Jackets accomplish before the start of District 8-4A play.

Stephenville begins attacking that list tonight when the Jackets open the 2008-09 season against Azle at 8 p.m. inside the friendly confines of Gandy Gym. Sub-varsity action tips off at 5 p.m.

If an outline of Dacus’ list were to be drawn up, defense would be the first major sub-plot.

“We need to hold teams to a lower field goal percentage than we have in the past,” said Dacus, whose Jackets reached the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs last season before being eliminated by eventual state finalist Fort Worth Southwest. “We believe in man-to-man and that’s what we’ll continue to play. We need to work on certain aspects of it, like getting a hand in the shooter’s face and defensive rebounding.”

Offensively, Dacus has three critical areas of concern.

“We have to be able to shoot the three,” he said. “We’re working on executing our offense to get our shooters isolated with good looks at the basket. I’m also hoping we’ll have balanced scoring. I don’t really want to depend on one or two guys because if you do that, you’re in a hole if they have an off night. We want to get a lot of guys involved in the scoring.”

His third offensive concern is a familiar one early in the season.

“Chemistry is important and that’s something I don’t feel like we have down yet,” Dacus explained. “I get the feeling we don’t anticipate each other’s moves very well, and that kind of surprises me because I thought we were going to be better in that area. It just takes time, though, and I think we’ll get it before long.”

The Jackets return two full time starters in guard Victor Martinez and forward/post Garrett Autrey, both seniors. Nick Young is also back and will be in the starting rotation on the wing after serving as a part-time starter last year.

“Those guys bring experience,” Dacus said of the returning group.  “Victor is a great competitor who is very quick and plays hard all the time, and Garrett is fairly steady, especially from a rebounding standpoint. Nic is very steady. He always does a good job defensively and on the boards.”

Garrett Autrey, who Dacus says can play inside or outside, will begin the season starting down low at the four spot. Martinez will play the two-guard, while Young will be on the wing in the three-hole. Out top will be Justin Lanham, who is moving up from the junior varsity, at point guard.

The remaining starter in the paint hasn’t been determined yet, says Dacus.

“I have three candidates for the five (center), but I still haven’t decided on a full-time starter there. We’re looking at Clint Warren, JT Autrey and Cody Stevens.”

Dacus said Warren is likely to get the starting nod in the opener, but added that the competition for the job on a long-term basis is ongoing.

With three players competing for minutes, the five-spot is perhaps the deepest on the Jackets’ roster.

Dacus plans on suiting up no more than nine players this season, and says he may end up going with eight.

“John Matt Allen is our first guard off the bench,” Dacus said.  “After that we have Dalton Griffin, but he’s going to be kind of a swing man for us early on, playing both JV and varsity.”

Whether the final number of Jackets on the bench at any time is three or four, either number opens up the usual concerns that come with a lack of depth.

“There’s two areas that worry me,” Dacus said of the depth issues.  “You have to worry about foul trouble because that can always stretch you thin, and you’re not able to apply as much full-court pressure defensively because you can’t substitute the way you’d like to so you can stay fresh.”

Dacus calls Azle a big, physical team with at least one true scorer.

“I think they’ll be pretty good,” he says of the Hornets.  “(John) Derr is a 6-5 guard who their coach says can play any position on the floor, and he’s a shooter. They also have a 6-6 guy and another 6-5 guy.”

Derr averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 steals per contest as a junior last season.

“We have to contain (Derr) and we have to hit the boards,” Dacus said.

While wins are important and Dacus certainly wouldn’t turn one down in tonight’s opener, it’s the big picture that concerns him more.

“We always want to win, and we’ll do whatever we can to win,” Dacus said.  “But at the same time, I think you always have to be building for district. That means playing good, quick teams. I think Azle’s going to be pretty good, and I know right before district when we play in the Brownwood tournament we’ll see Denton Guyer and Wichita Falls, and those are teams that typically have quickness comparable to the schools we’ll face in district.”