By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Pete Leonard has hardly ever taken a break from basketball. From a star big man at Ava to a 1,000-point scorer at College of the Ozarks, he quickly jumped on the coaching staff on Hollister and soon took over the program.
Three years later, he is cautiously optimistic about the jump the Tigers could take.
“I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch,” he said. “Every year I’ve been here, we’ve won one more game than the previous year. I’d like to see a bigger jump this year and I think these guys can do it. I’d like to say this is the year we can make it happen, but our level of competition is up too.”
The Tigers went 9-16 last year and lost in the first round of districts, but do return eight seniors to the fold. Three of them earned starts last year: Logan Armitage, Logan Narvaez, and Cameron Shook.
They will all be needed to pick up the scoring load as no returning Tiger averaged double figures last year. Armitage carries a team-high 6.0 points per game while Shook added 4.0 each night.
Bryan Calovich, Carter Krysl, Avery Weber, Jesse Wright, and Jacob Lemaster round out the senior group. They have all been in Leonard’s system since the beginning and the coach believes the familiarity is read to breed success.
“It makes me excited. The first group I had was these seniors. I have grown with them as a coach and in my career. They are different than other classes since they have been playing together since elementary school.”
The ability to disrupt the offense will be the calling card for Hollister this winter. Leonard is not ready to provide a long leash when it comes to effort on the defensive end.
“Good defense creates easy offense. That will be our motto this year,” he said. “If you’re not playing good defense, you’re not going to see the floor much. If you want success, this is what you’ll have to do.”
Leonard even ran a man-to-man set exclusively during summer workouts to establish a baseline for his players.
“If we couldn’t guard that, we couldn’t guard anything. They bought in and played aggressively but smart, so that will be a focus.”
The Tigers will have a handful of new opponents to step up against as they join the Big 8 East and add the likes of Aurora and Mount Vernon to the schedule.
Who will become a primary scoring threat is still up for debate, but this is the most seasoned group Leonard has had at Hollister. That fact alone has him feeling confident about the direction of the Tigers basketball program.
“I’m only going to have to play two kids on varsity that are not seniors. Our numbers are good, folks are excited about that. We’re moving in the right direction.”