As most junior college coaches know, experience matters.

It seems like a cliche, but at two-year schools, having a handful of players returning from a successful season pays more than dividends. It’s even better when the leading scorer is back.

NJCAA All-American Velma Mitchell returns to lead a Highlassie squad that is thick with depth. Mitchell, though, is a game changer. The sophomore averaged a team-leading 17 points, 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists for a team that finished second in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference and qualified for the regional tournament.

But head coach Ricky Rhodes knows the NTJCAC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year is just one slice of the pie. It’s an entire team effort that pushed his players to a triumphant season.

“She’s a leader on the floor, leads with actions,” Rhodes said. “But I know and she knows that she earned all her honors and accolades because of the help of the others on the team. She was named an all-american because of the help of the other folks playing beside her.”

Mitchell joins six others from 2016’s successful season to hit the hardwood at the Highlands for their farewell campaign in 2017. Guard Jaylonn Walker joins Mitchell in the backcourt having averaged over 8 points as a freshman. Bryan’s Patrickia Daily brings her 7 points per game to help form a talented group of sophomores ready to chase the conference title.

“I have no doubt that experience will be huge for us,” he said. “Not only Velma, but I think the whole team can be something special.”

But there are several freshmen that has Rhodes excited. Guard Meakeyleetrieceiavia Nowlin can play the one or two, though it’s her presence inside that has Rhodes excited. Nicknamed KeeKee, for obvious reasons, Rhodes sees her as a player that can do a little bit of everything.

“She can run out as a guard, but has actually played inside a bit,” Rhodes said. “We will feature her at several positions.”

In what could be an exciting year for the Highlassies, expect a lot of the same from a 2016 squad that rolled through conference to finish near the top. It was a season that featured a nine-game winning streak and a trip to the regional tournament. Though losing to the nation’s top-ranked team in Odessa in the semifinals, Rhodes believes there is more greatness in store this year.

“We know what we can do,” he said. “If we can get after it and play each conference game like it’s our last, we can win the conference.”

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