Renard Thomas doesn’t ever think it’s over.
He’s right. This thing is just getting started.
Through the first seven games, the pecking order in District 8-5A boys basketball looked like it had been determined.
For the better part of the last month, Ellison sat all alone atop the District 8-5A standings.
The Eagles were too good. Malik Hawkins was too hot.
Ellison was going to win the district title — maybe even go 14-0 en route to the title. Harker Heights was the runner-up and Shoemaker was going to finish third.
Killeen was going to make it a perfect 4-for-4 for KISD, finishing fourth.
Now, who knows? This week, it all went to hell.
For once, the Eagles got cold as Hawkins finally went cold, shooting a dismal 3-of-15 in a loss to Harker Heights on Tuesday.
And on a night when Ellison struggled, shooting 5-of-20 from 3-point range, the Knights played one of their best games of the season behind junior guard Cameron Delaney, who dropped 22 points, as he took over as the hottest shooter in District 8-5A.
It didn’t last long, though, as he missed the biggest shot he took all week.
Tied at 44-44 with Shoemaker and the clock winding down Friday, Delaney’s buzzer-beating
3-pointer rimmed out.
That’s when Thomas knew the Grey Wolves had new life. After watching Harker Heights rally from a 17-point first-half deficit to tie it up at the end of regulation, the Shoemaker senior said there was still plenty of time.
Not just in the game, but in the race for the district title.
“I just told them, ‘The game’s not over, we’ve just got to keep playing,’” Thomas said. “‘If we played hard like we did in the first quarter, we’ll win the game,’ and that’s what we did.”
Now, Shoemaker has a chance to win the district title. But so does Harker Heights and, of course, Ellison, which took over sole possession of first place again in 8-5A with the Grey Wolves defeat of Heights.
Now, the pecking order looks like this: Ellison 8-1, Heights 7-2, Shoemaker 7-2, Killeen 5-4.
At first glance, it doesn’t look much different than it did last week.
The teams are in the same order. The games separating the first and second place team is the same.
But, with Ellison and Heights each having an extra loss on their records, injuries starting to mount and the Eagles aura of invincibility tarnished, the district race is closer than it was a week ago.
The Shoemaker win made what seemed like a battle between Heights and Ellison into a three-way race for the championship.
Each game is crucial in this district because just making the playoffs isn’t good enough for the KISD programs anymore.
bi-district playoff win last season, Ellison’s long playoff history and Heights’ time under Celneque Bobbitt, expectations in the city have risen above simply making the playoffs.
Playoff wins are the goal.
“In the locker room, we talk about the playoffs, and we knew after we beat Killeen we had a good chance to get in,” Minatrea said after the Grey Wolves’ win, “but we don’t want to play DeSoto or South Grand Prairie, so I explained to them we need to get as high a seed as we can.”
The No. 1 seed is only five games away.
The way the Grey Wolves played against Heights, it is no longer a stretch to call them contenders. The way Heights played against Ellison; you can’t rule the Knights’ chances out either.
And the Eagles? They have always been the favorite.
Any of the three could end up atop the standings, and any of the three could end up in third place, maybe even fourth if they are not careful.
That’s why there is only one thing certain about the playoff race — it isn’t even close to being over.
Contact Nick Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569