By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Joel Brown and Hillcrest enter the 2017-18 season a little more comfortable.
The Hornets enter the winter fresh off of a 19-win season that saw them lose to Class 4 runner-up Bolivar in the Class 4 – District 11 championship by just four points. Hillcrest will look to build off that finish in Brown’s third season at the helm.
Brown believes that both he and his players are more comfortable in the system.
“I definitely feel that the players have a much better understanding of what my expectations are of them and the things we are trying to do going into Year Three compared to going into Year One,” said Brown. “I give the guys a lot of credit though. What we ask them to do day in and day out is not easy. We play pressure defense and try to push the ball every possession on offense. That takes a lot of energy and effort to play that style, and I think the guys have adapted really well.”
Hillcrest will return several pieces from last year’s team, many of whom are tailor-made to play in Brown’s up-tempo system.
Headlining the returns are senior guards Tim Washington and Cole Pryor.
Washington, a 6-foot-1 wing, is one of the area’s best defenders, bringing the ability to guard anyone regardless of position. Pryor, a 6-foot guard, is one of the best shooters in the Ozark Conference.
Washington and Pryor started in the 2015 Class 4 state championship game as freshmen. Their experience and willingness to buy into their roles has made Brown’s job easier.
“They are both really good at what they do for the team, and they both can make a big impact of on the game doing what they do best,” said Brown. “It’s a huge benefit to have great player leadership; as a coach you feel more secure when it’s there. Tim and Cole have both been constants in that role for me at Hillcrest. This year’s challenge for those two, along with our other seniors, is to set the tone every single day.
“The best leader I’ve ever coached was Jack Simpson at Kickapoo. Jack brought it every single day for four years, and he held every other player accountable to do the same. That is the type of player leadership I continue to try and develop in these guys. They show the younger guys how to go about their business every day, so then when the younger guys become the leaders, that positive cycle continues.”
Senior football standouts Malik Starks and Josh Powell also return. Starks will likely takeover the point guard duties vacated by Shahn Clark. Powell gives Hillcrest an elite athlete and great defender.
Classmate Savion Hill is one of the state’s best long and triple jumpers, using that athleticism to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
Juniors Brennan Williams and Brenden Weaver also return after lettering last year. On a team that doesn’t have a ton of size, Williams is a 6’4 post that provides an interior presence. Weaver brings the ability to play multiple positions and can also space the floor with his 3-point shooting.
Brown also expects juniors Latterian Jarman and Brandon Menifee to make an impact this season. Both Jarman (6’2) and Menifee (6’4) are long and athletic that play much bigger than their frames indicate.
While much of the conversation around Hillcrest has been about who they lost, Brown and the Hornets are confident that they can be a player in a wide open Class 4 picture that has seen Hillcrest teams in the past make deep playoff runs.
“I am very excited for this upcoming season,” said Brown. “I believe that with consistency, dedication, and buy in from all parties, we can become a very competitive team to have to play against. My philosophy for this year’s team is to be the hardest working team on the floor each night, and to get the guys to care more about team success than individual success.
“Each game will be tough and each game will be important to us. Our district tournament is full of perennial area class four powerhouses. It will be very similar to conference play. My goal is to have our team playing at its peak when that time comes.”
Hillcrest opens the 2017-18 season against Oak Park on Dec. 1, part of the Norm Stewart Classic.