Quinton Snell’s team is a year better. He knows it. Anyone who has watched the Cadets play knows it.
They’re tougher, healthier, more experienced and more balanced than last year’s version. All of those facts make the Cadets even more equipped to possibly win this weekend’s Region III-4A tournament than last year’s regional tourney team, which gave Houston Yates a tussle before falling in the semifinals, 67-64.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy.
The 17th-ranked Cadets (23-8) will face a towering foe in No. 1-ranked Silsbee (26-8) in Friday night’s regional semifinals at Sam Houston State’s Johnson Coliseum in Huntsville. If Connally can get past the tradition-rich Tigers, it would draw either Liberty Hill or second-ranked Yates for the regional title and a potential state berth at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“If you get out of Region III, you’re almost guaranteed to play for a state championship,” Snell said.
Here’s the thing, though. Silsbee’s coaches are likely watching tape of the Cadets and thinking, “We have to play Connally? Man, these guys are really good.”
Such is the name of the game at this point in the playoffs. Connally wouldn’t have made it this far without a potent lineup. Yet this year’s Cadet squad figures to be a little more comfortable with its surroundings in Huntsville.
“If you look at our roster, we’re really young. We’ve got three sophomores and we’re starting two of them (in JeJuan Forward and Zailin Cleveland),” Snell said. “But those two guys also played a lot last year as a freshmen – one of them played 39 varsity games and the other one played 34. So when you talk about experience, it’s not as much about age.”
However, the Cadets can also lean on their share of high-ranking senior officers. Senior point guard Trajan Snell, the coach’s son, is a four-year varsity starter, while senior swingman Sidney Hadden has three years of varsity starting experience to his credit.
They’re grizzled, but they’re also gracious. Connally is more balanced than an IRS accountant’s checkbook. In the Cadets’ regional quarterfinal win over Hillsboro on Tuesday, all five starters scored in double figures. That’s hardly an uncommon event.
“That’s what makes us pretty good,” Quinton Snell said. “Maybe we have one guy who could go off for 20 or 25, but sometimes when you look at the scorebook, it’s one guy getting 16 and another guy has 14 and another guy has 12. That’s one thing I told the guys – remain unselfish. If we share the ball and play for each other, play together, we can make the most of this moment.”
If you need assistance crossing the street, go see the crossing guard. If you need assistance on the court in Central Texas, Trajan Snell is your man. The senior is cut from the old-school, John Stockton-type mode of point guards, in that he routinely looks to spread the ball around to his teammates before looking for his own shot.
Then again, when the Cadets needed a big bucket in overtime against Hillsboro, Trajan came through with a tough, off-balance leaner.
“He’s been bred to be a point guard, to share the ball, get the ball to people in the right position, be a good leader,” Quinton Snell said. “I’ve had people who say he’s actually too unselfish. I mean, people who know basketball. They say, ‘He needs to shoot more.’ But I just try to let Tray be Tray. I just let him play. He understands the game.”
One reason Trajan became a bit more aggressive down the stretch against the Eagles is because Hadden had fouled out, and Connally was suddenly without one of its most efficient and experienced scorers. Quinton Snell said that all his players have adopted a mindset of doing whatever it takes to win.
The coach doesn’t want that to change now, just because the opponents are as stout as any they’ve seen all year.
“We have a hashtag – TNFG, which stands for Take Nothing For Granted,” Snell said. “We want to do everything we can possibly do as a team. Hopefully we can continue to do that for at least a couple more games.”