• September 22, 2014

BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Up-and-comers set to fill roles of departed stars and keep their teams winning

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Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Thu Aug 21, 2014.

Lometa is a tiny town, but expectations are enormous.

Situated at No. 17 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Class 1A, Division II preseason poll, the Hornets enter the season as the highest-ranked team in the area. Despite receiving early recognition, Lometa wing Eric Nichols believes the Hornets will shine brightest in the playoffs.

“I expect us to get far,” the senior said, “possibly the state championship. … (We are committed to) hard work and dedication. We’ve got good coaching. We’ve just got it all.”

Numerous other players share the feelings as they prepare to embark on a new season, including Killeen senior Melvin Anthony.

“I’m excited to prove everybody wrong,” he said. “For everybody that has doubted my team and myself, I just want to get out there and start winning games.”

Joining Lometa in the preseason polls are Class 2A No. 24 Salado and Harker Heights, which is ranked 18th in Class 5A. 

Although the Knights are coming in with the most hype, Ellison is the Killeen Independent School District’s perennial power, reaching the playoffs in 19 consecutive seasons, including last year, when the Eagles won their first district championship since 2004.

Ojai Black, who was named district MVP and KDHpressbox.com All-Area Player of the Year, graduated, along with sharpshooter Malik Hawkins, but junior Malik Malone is ready for the opportunity.

“We have key players coming back,” he said, “but extending this playoff streak will be challenging because you have a lot of expectations you are expected to uphold. … We have a big ‘X’ on our backs considering we won district, we went far in the playoffs, and we lost a lot of seniors, so they really want to come after us now.”

A number of teams graduated their most talented playmakers, leaving up-and-comers like Copperas Cove’s Rashard Odomes and Shoemaker’s Shane Johnson, who each played complementary roles as their teams made postseason runs.

Last season, Odomes helped the Bulldawgs reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as then-senior Corey Scott averaged 24.3 points per game en route to being crowned the district’s offensive player of the year.

“I’ve got a team around me that will help out, and people are going to do the same things they did last year,” Odomes said. “We are going to have to all be focused and all be determined.”

Shoemaker lost the district’s defensive player of the year from a year ago in forward Sean Causey and guard Paris Yerry, who were each all-district first-team selections.

Additionally, the Grey Wolves are transitioning to a new head coach as four-year assistant Emund Prichett takes control of the program from Marc Minatrea, who led the team to three postseason appearances in seven years.

With a new look, Johnson and the rest of the Grey Wolves are eager to return to the court.

“The feelings are great,” he said. “Everybody is ready to play basketball. Everybody is ready for the season. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

Some, however, must wait longer than others.

With an enrollment of approximately 90 students, the Hornets will be forced to start their season shorthanded as the basketball and football rosters share many of the same players, including Nichols and post Pedro De Luna.

Even though Lometa’s run in the football playoffs will delay the basketball team’s jelling process, De Luna is excited to transition seasons.

“I’m pretty sure (the emotions) will have to wait until football ends,” he said, “but after football practice, I still shoot around in the gym and I am trying to get my skills better.

“I’m ready for the season to begin.”

BELTON TIGERS

Last Season: 8-21, 2-10 8-5A

Outlook: The Tigers are hoping to rebound from a losing season and compete for a playoff spot in District 8-5A. Braden Hammond returns after earning All-District 8-5A second-team honors in 2012. The Tigers are also excited about Andre Ewing, who will come over from football, where he is a 6-foot-5 wide receiver. Belton is searching for its first winning season since 2009.

COPPERAS COVE BULLDAWGS 

Last Season: 20-12, 8-6 8-5A (bi-district finalist)

Outlook: Copperas Cove’s magical season was ruined last season, when DeSoto — ranked No. 1 in the state at the time — eliminated the Bulldawgs from the playoffs in the opening round. It was Copperas Cove’s first postseason appearance since 2008, and the Bulldawgs do not intend to suffer through another drought. With six returning players, the Bulldawgs are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish in the district standings after winning six of their final seven regular season games, including a four-game winning streak to end the season, in order to clinch a berth.

ELLISON EAGLES

Last Season: 29-7, 12-2 8-5A (regional quarterfinalist)

Outlook: Ellison stood atop District 8-5A in 2012 and was 55 seconds from a trip to the Region I Tournament before falling to eventual state runner-up South Grand Prairie in the postseason. Ellison returns just two starters from that team, but with an abundance of size and athleticism the Eagles have the tools to be successful again. The Eagles’ size starts with 6-foot-7 Fred Jackson, one of two returning starters along with 6-foot-4 Ronnie Edwards. Ellison coach Alberto Jones said the two will start at center and power forward, respectively, again this season. Malik Malone also gives Ellison size on the perimeter at 6-foot-5. Knigel Key was a key component off the bench for the Eagles last year and will be an even bigger contributor this season as Ellison tries to replace the production of last year’s 8-5A MVP, Ojai Black.

FLORENCE BUFFALOES

Last Season: 10-21, 5-9 22-2A

Outlook: The Florence Buffaloes will have experience on their side in what they hope will be a playoff season. Florence returns nine players, including three starters this year. Florence looks to replace two big holes left by Clay Navarette and Matthew Mellette, who graduated after last season. Alfredo Pena serves as the team’s primary guard when he finishes the cross-country season. Florence coach Danny Wood sees experience as a big factor this season since the majority of the players have been on the varsity team since they were sophomores.

BELTON TIGERS

Last Season: 8-21, 2-10 8-5A

Outlook: The Tigers are hoping to rebound from a losing season and compete for a playoff spot in District 8-5A. Braden Hammond returns after earning All-District 8-5A second-team honors in 2012. The Tigers are also excited about Andre Ewing, who will come over from football, where he is a 6-foot-5 wide receiver. Belton is searching for its first winning season since 2009.

COPPERAS COVE BULLDAWGS

Last Season: 20-12, 8-6 8-5A (bi-district finalist)

Outlook: Copperas Cove’s magical season was ruined last season, when DeSoto — ranked No. 1 in the state at the time — eliminated the Bulldawgs from the playoffs in the opening round. It was Copperas Cove’s first postseason appearance since 2008, and the Bulldawgs do not intend to suffer through another drought. With six returning players, the Bulldawgs are looking to improve on their fourth-place finish in the district standings after winning six of their final seven regular season games, including a four-game winning streak to end the season, in order to clinch a berth.

ELLISON EAGLES

Last Season: 29-7, 12-2 8-5A (regional quarterfinalist)

Outlook: Ellison stood atop District 8-5A in 2012 and was 55 seconds from a trip to the Region I Tournament before falling to eventual state runner-up South Grand Prairie in the postseason. Ellison returns just two starters from that team, but with an abundance of size and athleticism the Eagles have the tools to be successful again. The Eagles’ size starts with 6-foot-7 Fred Jackson, one of two returning starters along with 6-foot-4 Ronnie Edwards. Ellison coach Alberto Jones said the two will start at center and power forward, respectively, again this season. Malik Malone also gives Ellison size on the perimeter at 6-foot-5. Knigel Key was a key component off the bench for the Eagles last year and will be an even bigger contributor this season as Ellison tries to replace the production of last year’s 8-5A MVP, Ojai Black.

FLORENCE BUFFALOES

Last Season: 10-21, 5-9 22-2A

Outlook: The Florence Buffaloes will have experience on their side in what they hope will be a playoff season. Florence returns nine players, including three starters this year. Florence looks to replace two big holes left by Clay Navarette and Matthew Mellette, who graduated after last season. Alfredo Pena serves as the team’s primary guard when he finishes the cross-country season. Florence coach Danny Wood sees experience as a big factor this season since the majority of the players have been on the varsity team since they were sophomores.

GATESVILLE HORNETS

Last Season: 17-16, 7-3 8-3A (area finalist)

Outlook: Despite bringing in a new head coach — former assistant Thomas Winkler — Gatesville returned to the playoffs last season, advancing to the area round before being eliminated by No. 3 Kennedale. The Hornets will look to improve on last season’s showing, but they will do so without several key contributors, including post Danny Byrd and District 8-3A defensive MVP Tobias Moore. In all, Gatesville lost five players to graduation, but Seth Martin and De’Quan Cross both return for their senior seasons, while junior point guard Justin Massey and guard/forward Hunter Gore will each look to improve on solid sophomore seasons.

HARKER HEIGHTS KNIGHTS

Last Season: 23-9, 11-3 8-5A (bi-district finalist)

Outlook: The Knights, ranked No. 18 in the initial TABC rankings, return many key contributors from a team that came within five points of upsetting state runner-up South Grand Prairie last season in the bi-district round of the Class 5A playoffs. Heights will look to improve on that finish this season with a trio of Division I commits and 2012 8-5A Newcomer of the Year Celneque Bobbitt II back. In the backcourt, Heights boasts twins Cameron and Josh Delaney, who are committed to the University of Denver and Sam Houston State, respectively, and were both first-teamers on the 8-5A All-District team last season. Bobbitt is joined in the frontcourt by 6-foot-8 forward Roderick Taylor, who is committed to play at the Louisiana-Monroe. Heights is an athletic team, but coach Celneque Bobbitt said focusing on the fundamentals will be the key to success for his Knights.

KILLEEN KANGAROOS

Last Season: 18-17, 7-7 8-5A

Outlook: Coach Reggie Huggins wants to make sure the Roos are back running into the postseason. Last year, Killeen entered the final game of the regular season tied with Copperas Cove for the final playoff spot, but lost to Harker Heights and Cove’s overtime win over Shoemaker kept the Roos out of the playoffs. Killeen is a more experienced bunch this season with four returning starters and eight seniors on the team. The Roos plan to play at a fast tempo this season and Huggins said his plan is to wear down the opposition through four quarters.

LAMPASAS BADGERS

Last Season: 20-11, 4-6 8-3A

Outlook: Lampasas will look to redeem itself following a disappointing season last year. After producing a strong start, the Badgers fizzled in district play and missed the playoffs. Lampasas returns three starters from last season, including Shonderius Howard, Ralph Marez and Gary Spencer, who suffered a leg injury and was expected to miss a large portion of the season until receiving news recently that it was not as severe as originally believed. The Badgers have yet to reach the playoffs under head coach Rob Shivers, who is entering his fourth season with the team.

LOMETA HORNETS

Last Season: 18-11, 9-1 28-1A, Div. II (area finalist)

Outlook: Lometa lost four players after winning its district championship last season, but the Hornets are still returning the bulk of their offensive firepower. All three of the team’s top scorers are back this season after averaging 58.7 points per game a year ago. The Hornets come into the season ranked No. 17 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Class 1A, Division II preseason poll and have a mix of youth and experience on the roster. Along with seniors Shane Stone, Eric Nichols, Pedro De Luna and Justus Alaniz, there are four sophomores on the team.

SALADO EAGLES

Last Season: 28-9, 13-1 22-2A (regional semifinalist)

Outlook: The Eagles enter the season ranked No. 24 in the TABC rankings with six returners from a squad that reached the regional semifinals before falling to eventual state champion White Oak. The Eagles return just two starters, but they are good ones in point guard Kase Spears and shooting guard Dane Hankamer, who was honorable mention on the All-Region III team in the 2013 playoffs. Salado coach Kenny Mann said he expects the team to do well again this year thanks to its ability to run the floor and rebound. The Eagles will have decent size this season with three 6-footers, including the 6-foot-3 Hankamer. Mann also said his team had a good offseason conditioning-wise, which will also help as it tries to unseat defending district champion Jarrell.

SHOEMAKER GREY WOLVES

Last Season: 26-9, 11-3 8-5A (bi-district finalist)

Outlook: This season, Shoemaker coach Emund Prichett takes over as head coach of the Grey Wolves after serving as an assistant for four years. But the goals remain the same as Shoemaker looks to return to the playoffs after a tough 42-38 bi-district playoff loss to Cedar Hill last season. Shoemaker is a younger group this season with two returning starters and four total varsity returners. The Grey Wolves have big holes to fill in the backcourt after losing guard Paris Yerry. who was a Killeen Daily Herald All-Area second-team selection. Nick Dawson, Shoemaker’s sixth man last season, along with Patrick Mark will be looked upon to fill the two starting guard roles.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Melvin Anthony, Killeen

In addition to Brian Long, the Roos have another big post in the middle with the 6-foot-5 Anthony. The senior has the ability to use his long, angular body to block shots, but also possesses good shooting and dribbling skills for a big man. Coach Reggie Huggins said they both have the ability to dominate the paint, but he looks for Anthony to score more consistently.

Celneque Bobbitt II, Harker Heights

Bobbitt averaged 10.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 2012 en route to Newcomer of the Year honers in 8-5A. The Knights’ presence inside starts with Bobbitt, a junior forward who uses his 6-foot-5 frame well and has a soft touch around the rim.

Cameron Delaney, Harker Heights

Delaney and his twin brother, Josh, are both keys in the Knights backcourt as evidenced by their commitments to Division I schools. At 6-foot-2, the junior has nice size and can play off the ball or bring the ball up the floor for the Knights.

Pedro De Luna, Lometa

The senior post finished last season ranked in the top three on his team in almost every major statistical category. He shot 46 percent from the field (second) and averaged 9.7 points (third), 8.4 rebounds (first), 3.9 steals (first) and 0.6 blocks (third) per game.

Ronnie Edwards, Ellison

Edwards is one of two returning starters for the Eagles and is expected to carry a bigger load in 2013. Edwards is a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, but the Eagles will look to the senior power forward for points in the paint and an defensive presence inside.

Christian Gomez, Florence

The 6-foot-4 junior post enters the season a bit banged up from playing on the Buffalo football team, but once healthy, will be one of the team’s primary scorers. The returning all-district performer could have another big season since no other teams in the district run up and down and score a lot on the fast break.

Dane Hankamer, Salado

Hankamer is a load on the wing with the ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot from outside at 6-foot-3. The senior was honorable mention all-region last postseason and will look to build off that campaign in his senior season.

Fred Jackson, Ellison

Jackson and Ronnie Edwards are the only returning starters for the Eagles and will be counted on for both leadership and production on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-7 Jackson, a senior, is the more defensive-minded of the two, coach Alberto Jones said, and is a big part of a size advantage Ellison figures to have against most opponents.

Shane Johnson, Shoemaker

The senior may have been listed as a guard on last season’s roster, but coach Emund Prichett said he could play all five positions on the court. Johnson was named to the All-District 8-5A second team a year ago and this year will be looked upon as one of the primary scorers. Johnson is the type of player that can fill up a stat sheet with points, rebounds and defensive plays and Prichett praised Johnson’s overall basketball IQ.

Brian Long, Killeen

The “old man” looks to make the most out of his fourth season on the varsity team. The University of Texas at Pan American commit could post a matchup problem with his 6-foot-4 frame. Coach Reggie Huggins said the senior post is motivated to cement his legacy this season as a winner with a long playoff run.

Luke McNeal, Florence

McNeal gives the Buffaloes another big body in the middle to help out with second chance points. Coach Danny Wood said the senior shoots the ball well for a big post and that could add another dimension to the Buffalo offense.

Eric Nichols, Lometa

As a junior, Nichols led the Hornets in points, averaging 11.3 per game, while also posting 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and three steals per game. As a senior, even more will be expected from the 5-foot-10 wing, who is also the football team’s starting quarterback.

Rashard Odomes, Copperas Cove

After playing alongside sharpshooter Corey Scott last season, the versatile shooter is poised to have a breakout season for the Bulldawgs, who are looking to fill a void after six players graduated.

Terrell Thomas, Shoemaker

Thomas may not be a senior, but he still serves as the Grey Wolves emotional leader and is vocal beyond his years and experienced at the varsity level. Coach Emund Prichett said the junior’s game has improved in the offseason and marvels at the post’s footwork.

Kase Spears, Salado

Spears returns to man the point for the Eagles, an important duty for a team that loves to run the floor. Coach Kenny Mann said the senior’s awareness on the court separates him from the rest and that he shoots well from the perimeter.

GAMES TO WATCH

  • Lometa at Priddy, Nov. 19: Since arriving at Lometa, Priddy has been a thorn in head coach Aaron Nuckles’ side. The Pirates ruined his debut last season, before beating the Hornets 40-39 during the Priddy tournament.
  • Bryan at Killeen, Nov. 22: The Roos start the season with three straight home games, the third of which is a payback opportunity. Last season, Killeen dropped a 90-86 triple-overtime road game to Bryan. The game is sandwiched between a home date with Pflugerville Connally and a trip to Lake Travis.
  • Harker Heights at Garland ISD Tournament, Dec. 5-7: This is the only trip to the Metroplex for Harker Heights, a team that hopes to establish itself as one of the elite in the state. After falling to South Grand Prairie in the bi-district round last season, this tournament offers the Knights an early taste of Metroplex competition.
  • Shoemaker vs. Plano West, Dec. 5, Mansfield ISD/Spring Creek Classic: The Grey Wolves will have five regular season games and two tournaments in the first three weeks of the season, but Mansfield will hold the biggest test prior to district play. The Grey Wolves will play Plano West, the top team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 5A preseason poll.
  • Harker Heights at Ellison, Dec. 17: District play opens with two of the 8-5A heavyweights going at it. Heights is looking to compete for a district title and will get the first crack at the 2012 champs.
  • Shoemaker at Killeen, Dec. 17: Shoemaker’s road to the postseason begins with its District 8-5A opener against a Killeen ISD rival. Shoemaker is looking to remain one of the top teams in the district while Texas-Pan American commit Brian Long looks to lead the Kangaroos back into the playoffs after a hiatus in 2012-13.
  • Rosebud-Lott at Salado, Dec. 20: Salado coach Kenny Mann said the Cougars return the most players in the district after fielding an athletic team in 2012. This is just the second district game for both teams and the last game of the calendar year.
  • Shoemaker at Harker Heights, Dec. 20: Three days after opening district play against defending 8-5A champion Ellison, Heights hosts the only team besides Ellison to finish ahead of it in the district standings in Shoemaker.
  • Florence at Troy Varsity Holiday Tournament, Dec. 27-28: The Buffaloes have only six games and one tournament before beginning district play. This holiday tourney could give Florence the last opportunity to jell before the final 13 district games of the season.
  • Ellison at Copperas Cove, Jan. 3: During last season’s run to the playoffs, the only District 8-5A team Copperas Cove was unable to defeat was the Eagles, who won twice by a combined 28 points.
  • Salado at Jarrell, Jan. 3: Jarrell is the defending district champion, and Salado coach Kenny Mann expects the Cougars to reload again. This is the first meeting between the top two teams from 22-2A last season as both reached the regional semifinals in the playoffs.
  • Copperas Cove at Killeen, Jan. 17: Killeen has a big date with Cove right in the middle of district play. Coach Reggie Huggins said the playoffs are a goal and a win over the team that beat out Killeen out for the final playoff spot could give them a lift headed down the home stretch. Last season Killeen and Cove split the season series.
  • Salado at Florence, Jan. 17: Florence wraps up the first half of district play with Salado, one of the favorites to take the district. The Eagles begin the season as the No. 24 Class 2A team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll. Salado finished second in district and advanced to the regional semifinals a year ago. A win over the Eagles could give Florence a boost for the second half of district play.
  • Ellison at Killeen, Jan. 31: The oldest KISD schools lock up in one of the final games of the regular season, and postseason implications figure to be in play.

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