By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
As Joel Brown enters his second season as the head coach at Hillcrest, experience is at an all-time high. No, not for him, now just one year removed from being an assistant coach at Kickapoo, but for his team that returns 10 varsity players and is aiming for a big year this season.
All five starters are back from last year’s team that finished 9-18, giving the Hornets a lot of confidence heading into the season.
“Saying last year was a struggle would be an understatement,” Brown said. “It was a tough year for everyone. One of the positives that we can take away from last year is the way we finished the season. We were playing our best basketball at the end of the year, and as a coach, that is always one of my goals. We used that as momentum in the offseason to get better for this season.”
Among the returning starters for the Hornets are seniors Shahn Clark and Hezekiah Duke, two players who Brown believes could have big years. “Shahn is a very talented player who is looking to have a breakout senior year,” Brown said. “Hezekiah is a good outside shooter who has really developed his athleticism and physicality over the offseason, which should help him this year.”
Other returning starters include juniors Cole Pryor and Tim Washington and sophomore Tyem Freeman. Pryor, one of the better outside shooters in the area, should help the Hornets stretch the floor at the offensive end. “He’s a very good shooter capable of knocking down big shots,” Brown said. “He’s also improved his game off the dribble which should help. Tim has the heart of a lion and plays six inches taller than he is. He’s the ultimate glue guy and he is capable of guarding (any position on the floor). Tyem has sky-high potential. He is looking to have a big sophomore year, and I think he will draw a lot of attention as the season progresses.”
Hillcrest also brings back seniors Sam Terry and Brant Schaffitzel, who should both make contributions at the varsity level this season. Terry is best known for his athleticism and effort. “Sam is a very athletic player with a big motor,” Brown said. “He can guard a variety of players because of his effort and tenacity.” Schaffitzel is a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball), and his dad, Ryan, is the head baseball coach at Hillcrest. “Brant is the perfect model of what daily work ethic should look like,” Brown said.
Along with juniors Pryor and Washington, Hillcrest also welcomes back juniors Josh Powell and Jaydon Sydnor. “Josh is a fantastic athlete with the ability to impact a game in a hurry as a lockdown defender,” Brown said. “Jaydun is a good shooter with a natural knack for scoring the basketball.”
The Hornets also return sophomore Brenden Weaver, who has a lot of potential but might take a little time to put it all together. “Brenden has a great basketball IQ, but he is still growing into his body,” Brown said. “Once he puts it all together, he’s going to be a pretty good player.”
In addition to its 10 returners, the Hornets also have three newcomers: juniors Malik Starks and Savion Hill and sophomore Brennan Williams. “Malik is a very skilled player who really worked and got better in the offseason,” Brown said. “Malik will be a great contributor to the varsity team. Savion is a great defensive player who can use his athleticism to make things very difficult for the opposition. Brennan has tremendous upside and is a relentless worker. He will make a big impression on a lot of people this season.”
With so many returners and a few key newcomers, its easy to see why the Hillcrest Hornets are excited for the upcoming season.
“I feel confident that the team will see the work they put in pay off this season,” Brown said, “and I believe we can produce a record that is far better than what it was last year.”