By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Hillcrest has compiled over 40 wins in three seasons under Joel Brown, but is still searching for a district championship in that span.
The Hornets finished last season with a 15-12 mark as Bolivar ended their run in districts for the second straight year. Now they will have to count on some underclassmen to mature quickly as they return just one starter.
“There are a lot of unknowns. We’ll have at least three sophomores that will play a significant role,” said Brown. “We have some guys that have played varsity off the bench but just not a lot of experience. We have some late bloomers that have developed over the summer. I really like the nucleus.”
All-Ozark Conference First Team selections Cole Pryor and Tim Washington are gone as is Defensive Team member Josh Powell. Brenden Weaver is that sole returner to the starting lineup and the most experienced of six seniors. He returns a team-high 12 points to go with 3.8 rebounds per game and is more familiar with Brown’s system than any of his teammates.
“(Weaver) has been with me the most out of any player I’ve had in the program. He has a lot of experience and we will rely a lot on him.”
That trio of sophomores that will be needed include: Chrishawn Haggard, Maleek Herron, and John Wright. All three played primarily on junior varsity last year while Haggard and Herron earned some varsity minutes during cleanup time as freshmen.
Brandon Meniffee, Laterrian Jarman, and Samson Cochran are seniors that will also be expected to increase their output. Brown described Menifee as a late bloomer who developed his game and body over the spring and fall.
Jarman will be a key fixture in the post and has the versatility to guard any position on the floor. Brown will look to him to grow into a force on the class.
Like in past years, the Hornets will not be the largest team on the floor most nights. Brown’s system will look to balance that with a fast pace of play. How that plays out in the early portion of the season is still a question mark.
“In the first few weeks of practice, like anybody, I’m trying to make game-like situations for them,” he said. “It needs to be tough for them with pressure situations so that, when we have games, they’re at least somewhat conditioned to it.”
Brown harped on the importance of his team’s ability to defend larger teams that they will see early and often in the Ozark Conference. If Hillcrest can hold its own on that end of the floor, the coach feels as though the offensive depth could lead to success.
“We have multiple shooting threats. In the past, we’ve had one, maybe two shooters and the rest were people we did not want taking outside shots. With this group, I can put five guys out there and feel confident with all five taking an open three-point shot.”