That’s the goal. Last season all four KISD teams made the postseason.
This year if that is going to happen, a playoff team from last season in District 8-5A is going to be left sitting at home. Ellison coach Alberto Jones is counting his Eagles to make it for the 19th straight season, though.
With only one returning starter a year ago, Ellison barely made trip No. 18 to the playoffs last season. But with four of five starters returning, including veteran starting shooting guard Ojai Black, Ellison comes into the season with an experienced lineup and is one of the favorites in 8-5A.
“We try to get the kids to realize that any given Tuesday or Friday, you can get beat, but if you play well, you can win,” Jones said. “That’s the difference in being 10-4 in district or 6-8 and watching the playoffs (from home). They know that it’s wide open, so you’ve got to compete (every night), you can’t just show up and win.”
Ellison won’t be alone at the top, though.
A year after being the district runner-up, Harker Heights is loaded again, with a lineup that consists of more than 10 6-footers and five players over 6-foot-5.
Shoemaker is coming off one of their best seasons in school history, but enter this season without both of their starring post players that led them to their first 5A playoff victory. Meanwhile, first-year coach Reggie Huggins has the Runnin’ Roos ready to rebound from a .500 campaign last season.
“It makes it a lot more interesting because I think all four (KISD) teams have a legit chance of making the playoffs at the end of the year,” Jones said. “And Cove’s better, and Temple is going to play hard. So it makes it interesting because right now every team has a legit goal of making the playoffs and it’s somewhat of a realistic goal for every team.”
But those not the only teams that could threaten to make a run.
Cove expects to be in the hunt this season as well. The Bulldawgs fell just short of making the playoffs last season, finishing fifth in district after failing to win two consecutive district games, but the team returns six players, including district newcomer of the year Rashard Odomes and last season’s leading scorer and distributor Cory Scott.
“You just don’t know. You’re going to have to take care of your home games and try and steal a couple on the road,” said Heights coach Celneque Bobbitt. “With six strong and competitive teams, you just don’t know. Hopefully some of the balls don’t fall when (someone else) needs them to fall.”
MEET THE CANDIDATES
Last season: 5-26, 1-13 in 12-5A
Outlook: Last season was long for the Tigers. The only bright spot was Daniel Mills, who averaged more than 20 points per game for Belton. And now, in addition to a rebuilding effort, the Tigers also have a new coach in Charlie Lewis, who replaces John Osborn. Lewis and Belton will rely heavily on Mills again this season, but making the playoffs is unlikely in what appears to be a tough District 8-5A.
Copperas Cove Bulldawgs
Last season: 15-14, 6-8 in District 12-5A
Outlook: Copperas Cove fell just short of making the playoffs last season, finishing fifth in district after failing to win two consecutive district games, but the team returns six players, including district newcomer of the year Rashard Odomes and last season’s leading scorer and distributor Cory Scott. Guard Deion Robinson will also play a big role in his senior season after tying teammate Tyler Wilson in steals per game, while providing solid defense against opponents’ guards. With the Bulldawg’s leading rebounder, Trivez Tucker, gone from the team, the remaining players will have to find ways to rebound.
Last season: 19-15, 8-6 in 12-5A, bi-district finalists
Outlook: With only one returning starter a year ago, the Eagles barely scraped by most of the season, securing an 18th consecutive playoff berth by the skin of their teeth after being swept by rival Shoemaker and earning District 12-5A’s fourth seed nearly by default. But with four of five starters returning, including veteran starting shooting guard Ojai Black, Ellison comes into the season with the most experienced lineup and represents one of the favorites in the new 8-5A. Along with Black, who averaged 17.2 points and five assists a game last season, the Eagles return senior sharpshooters Malik Hawkins and James Jessie, and 6-foot-7 post Phil Kee.
Last season: 15-16, 5-9 in 27-2A
Outlook: The Buffaloes made strides in 2011-12, but still have a long way to go to compete in their district. This season they will be led by Matthew Mellette and bigs Christian Gomez and Luke McNeil. Also expect a contribution from Wyatt Odom as Florence continues to try to build its program into a consistent winner behind head coach Danny Wood.
Last season: 22-13, 5-5 in 19-3A, bi-district finalists
Outlook: Gatesville has to make several adjustments following its playoff run last season. The Hornets’ most notable change comes in the form of new head coach Thomas Winkler. He takes over for Todd Shelton, who left for Class 5A Haltom during the offseason after leading Gatesville to a second-place finish in District 19-3A last season. While Winkler might be new to the position, he is not new to the program, having served as an assistant for three seasons from 2004 to 2006. Winkler will have plenty of talent to work with, primarily point guard Tobias Moore, who joins six returning players from last season’s team.
Harker Heights Knights
Last season: 26-8, 12-2 in 12-5A, bi-district finalists
Outlook: A year after cruising to the District 12-5A title, a mostly inexperienced group of Knights managed to put together a stronger-than-expected runner-up district finish before being unceremoniously ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Harker Heights enters the 2012-13 season with much loftier expectations, especially with one of the district’s tallest lineups, featuring 6-foot-5 returner Andre Hughes, 6-7 Roderick Taylor and talented 6-6 sophomore Celneque “C.J.” Bobbitt. Also returning are dynamic guard duo Cameron and Josh Delaney, both of whom cut their teeth in the starting lineup last season and will be expected to shoulder a majority of the scoring load this season.
Last season: 17-17, 6-4 in 8-4A, bi-district finalists
Outlook: Reggie Huggins’ first year as the Runnin’ Roos head coach will not be an easy one. The Roos are coming off a .500 season that failed to produce a district title for the first time since Bo Burgess’ final season (2004-05) and haven’t won a playoff game since Cory Jefferson, now a junior at Baylor, led them to the regional quarterfinals in 2008. They bump up a classification to 5A and now share District 8-5A games with Killeen ISD rivals Ellison, Harker Heights and Shoemaker, which haven’t been slouches, either — all three made the playoffs last year. But Huggins returns 6-foot-3 junior guard Brian Long, a three-year starter, and District 8-4A Newcomer of the year Demarius Cress.
Last Season: 18-12, 5-5 in 25-3A
Outlook: Third-year head coach Rob Shivers is looking to take the Badgers to the playoffs for the first time under his watch this season, and he has plenty of talent to do so. All-district first-team members Mason Murray and Shonderius Howard will be instrumental in the team’s success as they lead an up-tempo group that added Gary Spencer — a highly decorated transfer — to the mix. The squad has nine seniors on its roster, giving the Badgers one of the most experienced teams it has put on the court in quite some time, and after narrowly missing the playoffs last season, Lampasas is hungry to make a leap into postseason competition.
Shoemaker Grey Wolves
Last season: 21-13, 8-6 in 12-5A, area finalists
Outlook: The Grey Wolves are coming off one of their best seasons in school history, but enter this season without both of the starring post players that led them to their first 5A playoff victory. District 12-5A defensive player of the year Chris Runnels graduated and 6-foot-6 post Jose Roman, who averaged 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game as a junior, moved to South Carolina. Shoemaker returns five from last year’s team that finished third in District 12-5A, but will be young on the blocks and smallish on the perimeter. Seniors Paris Yerry (6-1) and Renard Thomas (5-9) and junior forward Shane Johnson were all honorable mention selections last season.
Last season: 17-14, 6-8 in 12-5A
Outlook: After their surprising run to the Region II-5A final in the 2010-11 season, the Wildcats have struggled mightily, winning just nine district games in the last two seasons. Temple returns seven from last year’s team, but lost leading scorer Avery Polchinski, the Wildcats’ only all-district selection. With all four Killeen ISD teams figured to contend for the district’s four playoff berths and both Copperas Cove and Waco Midway capable of knocking off one or two of them and sneaking in themselves, the Wildcats’ window of opportunity this season is rather small, but not impossible if they can get on a roll.
Last season: 22-14, 6-4 in 25-3A, area finalists
Outlook: With a pair of three-year starters leading the way, the Salado Eagles worked in several new faces into the mix just in time to help propel them on a late playoff push, winning five of their final six games in District 25-3A to lock up the district’s third seed. Salado even rode that momentum to an area-round appearance in its final season in 3A. But now the Eagles are back in the comfortable confines of Class 2A and with rivals Rogers, Little River-Academy and Cameron Yoe in 22-2A. Helping matters this season are the return of six lettermen who grew up last season, including Kase Spears, Austin Adams and Brandon Womac. Spears’ growth at point guard was pivotal as he was named the 25-3A co-Newcomer of the Year.
KEYNOTE SPEAKERS (Players to Watch)
Rashard Odomes, So., F, Copperas Cove — As a freshman, Odomes made an immediate impact on the court, averaging 17.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.3 assists per game, and his role on the team could increase even further this season following the departure of four seniors. Standing 6-foot-5, Odomes’ biggest attribute is his versatility.
Tobias Moore, Sr., G, Gatesville — Moore did it all for Gatesville as a junior, posting team highs in virtually every statistical category, excluding scoring. Nevertheless, it was not wise to leave the point guard alone as he connected on more than 50 percent of his shots, including 46 percent 3-point shooting, and he was nearly flawless from the free-throw line, where he hit 90 percent.
Shonderius Howard, Jr., F, Lampasas — After being named newcomer of the year for District 25-3A as a sophomore, Howard can expect to see his role increase in his junior season. The guard averaged close to 10 points per game for the season, providing a scoring punch that complemented older teammates such as Brandon Scott and Mason Murray.
Ojai Black, Sr., G, Ellison — A three-year letterman, Black has been the one consistent along the Eagles bench, leading Ellison despite a roster overhaul last season. Working as the “Batman” to go along with then-junior running mate Malik Hawkins’ “Robin,” Black averaged a team-high 17.2 points while distributing five assists a game. He’ll be expected to continue to show improvement while carrying the Eagles to a 19th straight postseason berth.
Cameron Delaney, Jr., G, Harker Heights — The most polished of Harker Heights’ Delaney duo, Cameron emerged late in the regular season as a serious scoring threat, helping the Knights secure the No. 2 seed in District 12-5A. Along with brother Josh and 6-foot-5 post Andre Hughes, Cameron will be expected to continue to shoulder some of the scoring prowess.
Celneque Bobbitt, Soph., P, Harker Heights — Despite his youth, Bobbitt’s talent and potential are unmistakable. And given his natural athleticism and 6-foot-6 size, Bobbitt — the son of the Knights head coach — will be counted on to pick up the varsity game quicker than many of his contemporaries. Bobbitt was selected as one of the nation’s top 40 sophomores when he attended the 2012 John Lucas Midwest Invitational Camp earlier this fall.
Brian Long, Jr., G, Killeen — The all-district first-team selection was the Roos’ leading scorer last season (14.9 points per game) and, even though he’s only a junior, will be the experienced voice to lead the team as it enters 5A this season, his third as a Killeen starter.
Demarius Cress, So., G, Killeen — Averaged 7.8 points and team-high 1.1 steals and 1.3 assists per game last season en route to being the District 8-4A Newcomer of the Year. The 5-6 guard showed promise last season in his varsity debut and will be a key building block for Huggins’ team moving forward.
Paris Yerry, Sr., G, Shoemaker — The 6-foot-1 senior showed flashes of being a playmaker, able to drive and score and willing to fight for rebounds, and the Grey Wolves will need him to do both this season as their post players gain varsity experience.
Shane Johnson, Jr., F, Shoemaker — Was the Grey Wolves’ second-leading scorer in their area-round playoff loss to Garland Naaman Forest last season and enters the season as Shoemaker’s most experienced letterman, having played on the varsity since his freshman season.
Daniel Mills, Sr., F, Belton — The most prolific scorer and rebounder in the area, Mills averaged 20.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game to lead Belton. Mills was also named to the Daily Herald’s All-Area first team despite the Tigers’ 5-26 record last season.
THE DEBATES (Games to Watch)
Australian Basketball Travelers at Harker Heights, Dec. 3: The Knights never shy away from a challenge, and taking on a national team from Australia should be quite the early-season challenge for a Heights squad that should be still trying to find itself in early December.
Ellison at Harker Heights, Dec. 18: It’s into the fire for two of the favorites to win the District 8-5A title as both open the district slate against one another. The winner of this game could get the early inside track while the loser will be playing catchup the rest of the way.
Waco Midway at Killeen, Dec. 21: The two teams shared a fierce rivalry during their days as 4A disrict opponents prior to last year, when both programs suffered down years. Moving forward, these two figure to be among the playoff bubble teams, so the District 8-5A home-opener for Killeen is especially huge for the Roos.
Ellison at Copperas Cove, Jan. 29: The Bulldawgs lost a pair of close contests to Ellison last year, and will be looking to gain a measure of revenge against the Eagles. More importantly, Copperas Cove needs to beat Ellison to prove it is a legitimate competitor in District 8-5A.
Harker Heights at Killeen, Jan. 18: Before coming over to Killeen, Huggins was an assistant under Knights head coach Celneque Bobbitt. The two ‘old-school’ Killeen High guys meet opposite each other for the first time in what will be a spirited game between two of the best boys basketball teams in Killeen ISD over the last number of years.
Liberty Hill at Gatesville, Feb. 5: Liberty Hill is the most dominant program in District 8-3A, and if Gatesville wants to prove it is a team to be reckoned with, then there is no better litmus test than the Panthers.
Burnet at Lampasas, Feb.5: Burnet produced a pair of lopsided wins against the Badgers last season, which contributed toward Lampasas narrowly missing the playoffs. Considering the two schools have a storied history, the defeats are probably still resonating within the Badgers, who should be eager to get another crack at the Bulldogs.
Ellison at Shoemaker, Feb. 5 — When these two teams meet, there are usually major playoff implications riding on the outcome, and the end is usually as thrilling as their situations are dire, especially the second meetings, like this one at Shoemaker in early February in the third-to-last game of the regular season.