Even with his team’s slow 0-3 start, first-year Highland Park boys’ basketball coach Tanner Strickland can see the growth in his young squad.
“In our last game we were up on the 13th-ranked team in the area for three quarters and our other two losses came against teams we lost to by much wider margins last season,” Strickland told Texas Scorecard. “I’ve even had opposing coaches come up and compliment us on being a much different team from last season.”
Strickland appreciates all the flattery, but it’s wins he and his Hornets crave most.
“We’re headed in the right direction as a program, but for this to be a good year we need to be a playoff team,” he said. “The school hasn’t made the playoffs for nine years and I think we need to just to show we are a different group.”
Junior frontcourt players Hunter Nicholas and Ethan Morris give Highland a chance. The two have combined to average 35 points and 19 rebounds over the team’s first three games, with the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Nicholas leading the team with averages of 21 points and nine rebounds.
“He makes us go,” Strickland said of his versatile star forward who’s been with the varsity team since his freshman year. “He handles the ball if we’re struggling with the press; he’s a creator for us and a leader in the locker room. I really think he has a chance to be an all-district player this season.”
Strickland said coaches are also working hard every day to get 6-foot-11 sophomore center Wilden Winston up to speed.
“He’s still adjusting and trying to get the hang of things,” Strickland said of Winston, who’s grown at least five inches since freshman year. “In our first game, he had no rebounds, but after the third his average was up to about seven. I feel like guys are finding their identity. From day one, we’ve told them who they are and who we are as a team.”
In all, the Hornets’ roster features seven juniors and three sophomores and Strickland describes the team’s style as attacking.
“We’re guard-oriented with good ball-handlers, so we’re always looking to run,” he said. “On defense, we’re always pressing and looking to speed things up. We play positionless basketball, which makes it easier for us to always be on the move.”