By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
Last season marked the first time in six years that the Harker Heights Knights weren't playing late into February.
Following a 68-64 double-overtime thriller over A&M Consolidated, the Knights seemed to fall apart, losing four of their last six district games, including three in a row from Feb. 5-12.
After dealing with a bout of diabetes last season, along with internal strife throughout the team, 11-year Knights coach Celneque Bobbitt had an epiphany - it's time to hold the players accountable.
Using daily inspirational quotes as motivation, Bobbitt has seen his team respond during pre-district play.
Starting the season 6-0, the Knights (12-2) have already beaten five ranked opponents including 4A No. 11 Killeen and 5A No. 17 Strake Jesuit, with its lone losses coming against 5A No. 4 Flower Mound Marcus and perennial playoff contender Houston Madison.
Below are capsules on all eight 12-5A teams, with updated records following Tuesday's district-openers:
This season: 5-7, 0-1
Last season: 22-13, 9-5 (tied for third place in 12-5A)
Players to watch: Alex Caruso (Jr., G), Ernest Payton (Sr., F)
Outlook: Like their female counterparts, the Tigers are starting the year with a new coach as Rick German replaced Rusty Segler, who left for Little Elm after 13 seasons. Alex Caruso and Truman Sweed were the only players with varsity experience, with the 6-foot-5 Caruso posing a matchup problem and already garnering college attention.
This season: 5-7, 0-1
Last season: 16-15, 4-10
Players to watch: Jacob Whitman (Sr., G), Sean Voss (Sr., G)
Outlook: At times, Belton can be a dangerous team with Voss's ability to drive and Whitman's accuracy from 3-point range. But, while the Tigers have an excellent backcourt tandem, they don't have a lot of size underneath the glass. If they are going to be successful, 6-foot-4 senior Luis Staggers will have to play above his height.
This season: 9-5, 1-0
Last season: 29-8, 11-3 (first place)
Players to watch: J-Mychal Reese (Jr., G), Chris Johnson (So., P)
Outlook: One of the top juniors in the country, Reese is averaging 25 points, five assists and 6.5 rebounds per game. It will be up to opponents to force the ball out of the 6-foot-2 junior's hands. That where the growth of this young Viking team comes into play. Most of last season's team that reached the Region II-5A tournament is gone.
This season: 8-7, 0-1
Last season: 11-23, 1-13
Players to watch: Jonathan Bridges (Sr., G), Ricardo Artis (Sr., W)
Outlook: The Bulldawgs may have turned a corner in Billy White's second season. Their eight wins are just three away from last season's total, while Cove has runner-up finishes at both the Marble Falls McDonald's Classic and Hays Rebel Classic. The Dawgs still struggle against taller teams, but can be deadly if their shooting is on from the outside.
This season: 9-7, 1-0
Last season: 22-12, 9-5 (tied for third place)
Players to watch: Devonte Brown (Sr., G), Jaleel Williams (Sr., W)
Outlook: Inconsistent so far this season, the talent-rich Eagles - which includes Indiana-State signee Brown and Division I prospect Williams - have shown flashes of being the team that won seven of its last nine district games to make its 16th consecutive playoff appearance last season.
This season: 13-2, 1-0
Last season: 16-16, 6-8
Players to watch: Royce O'Neale (Sr., W), Brandon Bullock (Sr. P)
Outlook: Fully recovered from the broken ankle he suffered midway through district play last season, O'Neale has returned to fill up the stat sheet on a nearly nightly basis so far. The 13th-ranked Knights also depend on the toughness of Bullock, an undersized post who has no problem battling for rebounds with players 3-4 inches bigger than him.
This season: 10-4, 1-0
Last season: 17-17, 6-8
Players to watch: Anthony Gonzales (Sr., G), Malcolm McDonald (Sr., F)
Outlook: While the focus will be on Gonzales (outside) and McDonald (inside), senior point guard A.J. McDonald may be the Grey Wolves' biggest key. He is be responsible for divvying up assists, making his own opportunities, but most importantly, he needs to balance an inside-out offense to keep opposing teams guessing.
This season: 7-7, 0-1
Last season: 29-7, 10-4 (second place)
Players to watch: Avery Polchinski (Jr., G), Tyrell Taplin (Sr., G)
Outlook: Polchinksi is the Wildcats' lone returning starter from last year's regional finalist team. Also gone is former head coach Tim Thomas who resigned after last season to take the same position at Cedar Hill.
Angel Verdejo and Kevin Posival contributed to this report. Follow all the District 12-5A action at www.KDHPressbox.com.