Hamilton looking to make another run at state tournament
Small schools provided the local flavor at the boys basketball state tournament last week, with Hamilton Christian, Singer and Pitkin all reaching the semifinal round.
The Warriors are poised to make a third state tournament appearance with the return of a strong backcourt, led by all state point guard Michael Thomas, a dazzling ball-handler and passer who recorded a pair of triple-doubles last season.
Thomas is joined by returning regulars Reggie Jackson, Adrian Brown, Zion Stewart, Caleb McEntire and Dakori Lewis.
Head coach Dexter Washington wants his team to push the pace while seeking a return to Burton Coliseum, where the Warriors lost a heartbreaker to St. Mary’s last season.
"I think one of our strengths is going to be playing fast-paced basketball, pressing, making people play at our tempo," he said. "We are going to have more depth this year. The chemistry is starting to develop. We have several people that can make plays for us. I like where we are after four days of practice. We want to get better defensively. We know that we can put some (scoring) numbers up, but we need to play with the same energy on the defensive end that we have on the offensive end. We have to get better in transition."
Washington said there are plenty of players and teams to watch this season.
"I’m really looking forward to watching (LC College Prep forward) Caleb Robinson," he said. "He hasn’t gotten an offer yet, I am disappointed about that, I was hoping McNeese would come in and offer him and Michael Thomas, local kids. Robinson is a player to watch, he is big time."
Hamilton’s district mate Grand Lake will be looking to improve on last season, when the Hornets tied Hamilton Christian for the 4-1A title and reached the regional round of the playoffs, losing by one to Arcadia. They must replace Drew Young, who scored more than 2,000 points in his career, but head coach Mark Caldwell is confident they can have another good season
"We feel good about the kids we have back, they have been playing together five years, and we had a few really step up and improve over the summer," Caldwell said. "We are going to have to take more committee=style. I think we’ll be strong at shooting the three, playing smart, taking care of the ball. As you get deep in the players, you need guards that can get the ball to the right spot. This year we will have kids playing their third year instead of freshmen and sophomores."
Pitkin, a Class B semifinalist last season, returns sweet-shooting Garrett Edwards, who averaged 29 points per game while leading the Tigers to a semifinal appearance. Singer must replace all stater Cameron Sandifer, who averaged 27 points per game. The Hornets reached the Class C semifinals last year.
At the big schools, the District 4-3A race looks to be a deep one, with Lake Charles College Prep, Washington-Marion and St. Louis all expected to be in the mix. The Saints must replace Bailey Hardy, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, but return a pair of starting guards in Benji Chatters and Jadon Johnson, and add transfer Trey Blanchard, who earned all state honors at Hathaway the past two seasons.
Washington-Marion returns center Jaylon Ned, but must replace its two leading scorers in Jaylin Walker and Michael Thomas.