Tonight will see a big early matchup between two Killeen teams, as Ellison will visit Shoemaker at 7 to open District 8-6A competition.
The Eagles (11-3) are looking to begin their quest for a league title, while the No. 19-ranked Grey Wolves (9-4) are aiming to repeat as district champions and make another deep postseason run.
Shoemaker head coach Emund Prichett said the records can be thrown out of the window tonight, and he knows it will be a stiff test for his team.
“The first 13 games really don’t matter,” Prichett said. “I can’t tell you how they’re going to play, because they haven’t been in a game of this magnitude to this point. It’s always going to be tough when you’re playing Ellison, whether it’s at home or away.
“It’s a big game right away, but it’s a good thing. Going into Christmas, you find out what your weakness and strengths are right off the bat.”
Ellison head coach Alberto Jones Jr. felt the same.
“I thought our nondistrict schedule was tough, and hopefully it gets us prepared for the next 14,” Jones said. “We played in a couple tournaments against some real good teams, and we played a lot of road games as well. Hopefully that gets us battle tested, because those first 14 games are to prepare us for the next 14.”
For the Wolves, seniors Javon Levi, Devyn Brewton and Antoine James have led the pack. But they needed a bevy of first-year players to step into some important roles, and they appear to have done that.
Six-foot-7 sophomore post J'wan Roberts has provided a necessary presence inside, while junior guard Duwain Thomas has been developing his all-around game. Senior guard Christopher Barnett has provided solid defense.
“We were an inexperienced bunch coming into the season,” Prichett said. “After 13 games, there’s definitely been some games I’m happy with, and then there’s some games I’m not so happy about. But that comes with inexperience.
“All of them have made strides.”
Levi leads Shoemaker in scoring with 14 points per game, and he also leads the team in assists with five per outing. Roberts is the team leader in rebounds with an average of eight per game.
The Wolves take a lot of pride in their defense, and they will have their hands full with an Eagles’ bunch led in scoring by senior guard Dajuan Jones, senior guard Michael Aranda and junior wing Casey Armour, each of whom are averaging 12 points each outing.
“This is our first season with Michael, and he has exceeded the expectations I had for him,” Jones said. “Casey has matured from being a sophomore on varsity last year to being a leader for us as a junior.
“Dajuan is doing what Dajuan does. This is our fourth year with him. I think sometimes you take what he does for granted because he’s been doing it so long, but when you sit back and watch it, he does a great job.
“All of our guys have stepped up.”
Jones also commended the play of junior post Elijah Moleon, and he felt senior wing Travian Wright has filled the unheralded, unselfish role of being the kid who guards the opposition’s best player most nights.
The showdown this evening will give the winner a big boost going into the Christmas break, but the world will not end for the loser. After all, there will be 13 more 8-6A games to go after it’s over, one of which will be a rematch between the two.
But it will likely give many area basketball fans a lot to talk about during the holidays.