Connally’s Sidney Hadden (left) and the Cadets have proved they can play with anyone.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

Quinton Snell doesn’t know anything about cupcakes.

Connally’s veteran head basketball coach would fire his schedule-maker, except he likes his job security. Snell knows his Cadets will face a rigorous challenge every year in District 17-4A, but he’s also a firm believer that an ambitious non-district schedule can only make you better.

Last year certainly lent plenty of credence to Snell’s line of thinking. Despite entering the UIL state playoffs with 12 losses on their ledger, the Cadets proved they could play with anyone. In the postseason, they clawed out wins over Mexia, Navasota and Athens to return to the regional tournament for the first time in a decade. Then in the Region III-4A semis, a shorthanded Connally team gave mighty Houston Yates all it wanted before succumbing in a 67-64 loss.

“The guys who got that experience last year should get it,” Snell said. “They understand, really, how hard it is to get through this region. Even our district is tough. When you think about it, we had three to four teams that were really good: us and La Vega made the regional tournament, Lorena made it to round three, and I thought China Spring could have beaten a lot of teams in the playoffs. They have a good group.

“It’s a serious grind. It’s tough, man.”

Tough is an apt description of Snell’s own squad. The Cadets gave Yates a scare despite missing one of its top players. Guard Sidney Hadden, a silky smooth 6-foot-3 shooter, collided with another player in Connally’s regional quarterfinal win over Athens. When Hadden went home that night, he just couldn’t get comfortable, as the pain amplified. His parents took him to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed an injury to Hadden’s kidneys.

Hadden missed the loss to Yates, but he made a full recovery and played football this fall. He’ll be ready when Connally opens its basketball season on Friday against Burnet.

That’s a great thing for the Cadets, and not-so-wonderful news for their opponents.

Hadden averaged 12 points a night last year, blessed with a sublime shooting stroke that allowed him to hit 52 percent of his field goal attempts.

Hadden will be joined in the backcourt by returning Super Centex standout Trajan Snell, the coach’s son. An old-school, pass-first point guard, Snell tied for the area assists lead with Rosebud-Lott’s Jaquarion Johnson, averaging seven dimes a night. But he’s fully capable of finding his way to the basket on his own, as evidenced by his game-high 33-point effort in the playoff win over Athens.

Connally used a pedal-to-the-medal style in that victory in scoring 88 points, and Snell expects to continue to instruct his team to “Push it!” – as he frequently bellowed in that game — at every opportunity.

“We should be real similar to last year. We’ll get up and down the court a little bit,” Snell said. “We want to get after you defensively, too. But we’ll emulate the style from last year, and we’re fortunate enough that we have the players who can make plays when the game is wide-open.”

Some of the pillars of last year’s regional run have departed. Keith Black, Maalik Cooper and Devin Miles made significant contributions as seniors on last year’s team.

That will likely mean more minutes – and more responsibility – for sophomores Korie Black, the 17-4A newcomer of the year in 2016-17, and 6-0 forward Je’juan Forward.

“Hopefully their youthful exuberance will pay off,” Quinton Snell said, laughing. “One of them played 39 games last year and the other played 34, so they’ve got some experience. But they’re still sophomores.”

Snell knows that Connally, which is ranked ninth in the TABC’s preseason Class 4A poll, will encounter some nights where the game is a struggle. The schedule practically guarantees it.

“How we put that schedule together, we’d like to think it’s a factor,” Snell said. “I don’t know if it’s the right formula or not, but we think by the time we reach the playoffs we’re somewhat battle-tested. … We had to overcome some adversity to get to that point. You face a lot of tough situations over the course of the season, a lot of ups and downs, hills and valleys. Hopefully you come out better because of it.”

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