Maumelle Hornets Boys
Coach: Christopher Shook, first year as head coach, sixth with program
Assistant coaches: Wayne McGibbony, Grover Garrison and Adam Funmaker
Last year’s record: 21-12; second in conference, district and regional runner-up
Returning starters: Three-year starter Anthony Turner (5-foot-11) is a senior guard and forward who averaged 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals per game last year. A lockdown defender who can match up outside, he’s also got the toughness to battle bigger guys inside, too, Shook said. Also returning is Cole Thomas (6-5), a senior who plays inside and out, averaging 7 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. “We’ve got two guys who project to be exceptional mismatches, and he’s one of them,” Shook said. “He’s got good touch around the basket and nice post moves. Also, he’s probably one, if not the best 3-point shooter on the team.”
Best inside players: Though junior Kendall Donnerson (6-3) didn’t post gaudy stats last year, averaging 2 points and 3 rebounds, “he’s a physical specimen, probably one of the best athletes in the school,” Shook said. The plan is to pair that strength with mismatches of Thomas and sophomore Tyshun Robinson (6-4), a hard worker and likely difference-maker, Shook said.
Best outside players: Shook has a trio of talent, but they’re untested together. Senior guard DaMarius McKinney (5-10) is an athletic transfer from Detroit. Another guard, J.B. Minix (5-8) is only a sophomore but played well in ninth grade last year. And junior guard Nick Cox (5-10), while “not quite as athletic as the other two” is “very highly skilled and has a good shot.”
How will you match/exceed/fall short of your success from last year? “Coach [Wayne] Herren laid a good foundation in his time here, and I think, with the athletes we have and as hard as they’re working, I think going to a new conference will be a good a change for us,” Shook said. “It will be good to see some new things.”
Strengths of team? “First of all, athleticism,” Shook said. “And I think that we have a lot of depth. I tell the kids all the time that other teams may have starters as good as ours, but I’ve got more confidence in our bench than anyone else’s.”
Weaknesses of team? “Definitely inexperience. We only have two returning starters, and I think, of the top eight guys that played last year, we only have three back,” Shook said. “Now, the junior high team I had last year was pretty solid, so I’ve got quite a few sophomores that will get playing time, and hopefully they can get that experience by end of season.”
Games to watch? “For in-conference, with all the coaches I’ve spoken to, everyone has said it’s Pottsville’s conference; they’re the team to beat. So when we play Pottsville in conference, that’s a game to watch. For nonconference, Pulaski Academy, just because four of 12 losses we had last year were to PA. I know that they’ll still be a tough team, and we kept them on the schedule.”
Toughest opponent? “I think Clarksville will definitely be the toughest opponent we play,” Shook said. “Also, Fort Smith Northside. They’re a quality 7A program, so that’ll be a good test for us.”
College prospects? Shook said Thomas has the skills and basketball IQ to contribute at the next level. “I’m not sure if it’d be D2 or maybe a small D1 or something like that, but for sure I think he can.” McKinney likewise has a good skillset, combined with size and athleticism, that could likely take him to the next level, Shook said.
In a nutshell: “I would say [this team is] hard working and unselfish,” Shook said. “They get after it every day in practice, and they push each other. … And I say unselfish because they’ve bought into my philosophy of playing team basketball. When we share the basketball, everybody has a chance to score.”
Coach: Lauren Buckner, second year at school, 155 wins-84 losses
Assistant: Rodney Gilmore
Last year’s record: 14-9, sixth in the conference
Returning starters: Three seniors headline an experienced group returning from last year for the Hornets, including Georvonna Porter, Taylor Pippins and Meme Riddles. Porter, a 5-9 guard, averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds per game last year, along with 3 steals and 2 assists. Pippins (5-11) plays forward and also averaged 8 points with 7 rebounds, a steal and an assist. Riddles (5-11) plays guard/center and averaged a double-double with 10 points and rebounds per game, 3 steals and 6 assists.
Best inside player: To go with the senior Pippins, “a very smart player expected to do even bigger things this year,” and Riddles, “a vast, versatile player who can dominate inside or out.” Buckner pointed to junior Morgan Fimpel (6-3), who averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds in games last year. “She is a force to be reckoned with at the center position. Her height gives us a great advantage against our opponents,” Buckner said.
Best outside player: Porter, a returning senior, is both the team’s best 3-point shooter and yet “strong enough to take it to the bucket and finish,” Buckner said. With her is sophomore Kamry Orr (5-6), “a true and solid point guard” who averaged 21 points and 7 assists per game. For scoring in transition, the team has Daysha Ross and will look to senior Courtney Gillespie to control the half-court game. Also, another “force both inside and out” is junior Alexis Ellis, who got starts last year as well.
How will you match or exceed your performance from last year? “I expect to exceed our performance from last year,” Buckner said. “I think we can finish first or second in the conference. I’ve got a strong senior class who is full of fire and determination — and leadership. The girls have become a more disciplined team with a dream and goals to not only get to the state tournament, but to bring home a championship.”
Strengths of the team: “Through extreme dedication in the preseason, the girls have improved their skills to the point that I have about 10 players I can use and not skip a beat. I have eight who have had extensive varsity game time. Since we have the depth, they are able to push each other in practice. We have both an outside and inside game that will be difficult to stop. We are aggressive on defense, focusing on creating turnovers.”
Weaknesses of the team? “Right now, it’s making sure the girls don’t revert back to ‘old habits’ in the heat of battle,” the coach said.
Games to watch: “The biggest rival is Pulaski Academy. We look forward to that game every year.”
Toughest opponent: “Hall and PA will give us a run for our money,” Buckner said.
College prospects: Buckner pointed to Riddles among her seniors, as well as junior Fimpel, and Orr, though only a sophomore, as next-level talents.
In a nutshell: “My assistant and I are working diligently to put a well-oiled machine on the court,” Buckner said. “We are competing in a new conference, which will have its positives and negatives. This team truly has the talent, along with a deep bench, to be powerful this year. This could be the season to begin a tradition of state tournament berths.”