Matt Brown figured it would help his transition back to the head coaching ranks that he already had a built-in relationship with his players.
Then he had four move-ins transfer to school.
“All of the sudden, I didn’t know everybody,” Brown said, chuckling.
The Midway boys’ basketball coach isn’t complaining, though. Those newcomers have blended in nicely to the Panthers’ existing mix, and helped Midway (8-3 overall, 1-0 in District 12-6A) bounce out to a strong start to the season that included a No. 10 state ranking in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Class 6A poll.
Brown served as the assistant coach to Brad Chasteen at Midway last season, then ascended to the head job in April after Chasteen left to move closer to his family in Austin. A former standout athlete at McGregor and a former head basketball coach at Manor and Wharton, Brown understands what it takes to win, and while he’s proud that the Panthers are gaining acclaim in the state rankings, he knows there’s still a lot of work to do.
“We all know how rankings work,” Brown said. “It’s nice to have your name regarded with some good teams, but at the same time it puts the bull’s-eye on you. Hopefully our guys stay hungry.”
So far, they’re showing the appetite of, well, a bunch of teenagers at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Midway finished fifth at the grueling Mansfield tournament last month, testing itself against four top-10 teams.
The Panthers continue to get heady guard play from junior Anthony Scott, a first-team Super Centex player last season, and senior Diego Gonzalez, a second-team Super Centex performer who also won 8-6A newcomer of the year honors in 2017-18. Gonzalez gained valuable experience over the summer by playing for Puerto Rico in the FIBA 17-and-under World Cup, where he logged time as the team’s sixth man and helped the squad win a bronze medal.
“International play is a lot different than what we see here, but Diego adds a different dynamic,” Brown said. “He brings a skill set you don’t necessarily see a lot in Central Texas. It’s unique.”
Midway also got off to a rousing start to District 12-6A play on Tuesday. The Panthers took down Ellison, 51-50, on a 17-foot jumper by the aptly-named Godsgift Ezedinma with time winding down. Ezedinma is a 6-foot-7 transfer from Sulphur Springs who joined the team along with his 6-foot-6 brother Michael Jefferson Jr., and both have made a sizeable impact, to stay the least.
However, Ezedinma never even gets that shot off without a savvy play from Scott. Jefferson was trying to feed the ball into the post to senior Levi Whiddon, and the Eagles leaped up to poke the ball away. However, Scott swooped in from the corner and tipped the loose ball to Ezedinma for the shot.
“His instincts took over, it was a really great play,” Brown said of Scott’s pass. “That game showed a lot of grit. Ellison is always a strong program with a lot of tradition, and we knew it would be a battle. It wasn’t anything pretty, but we were able to grind it out.”
Another Central Texas team that has elevated to a lofty spot in the state rankings is the Connally girls basketball squad, which ranks No. 5 in the TABC’s 4A poll and No. 2 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s rankings. The Lady Cadets have zipped out to an 12-0 start following Thursday’s action, and lead the state’s 4A teams in scoring (62.2), rebounding (47.9), steals (19.7), assists (15.2) and 3-pointers made (64), according to MaxPreps’ tallies.
Connally coach Taylor Sims knew what he had coming back with standout veterans like seniors Keyonna Lane and Heaven Lang-Tucker and junior Miannah Little. But what has taken the Lady Cadets to the next level is the team’s youth movement.
“That’s the thing I’m most impressed about – we have six sophomores and a freshman on varsity, and they’ve been playing lights-out,” Sims said. “Two of those sophomores, (Talayssia) Sanders and (Jamya) Coaster, ran on our state relay team at the state track meet last year as freshmen, so they’ve got a lot of speed and really have given us what we’re looking for defensively.”
And, of course, the player with the diminutive name – Little – is having a big-time year thus far. The sleek junior guard, who also ran a leg on that aforementioned state relay team, is averaging 25.4 points, 7.5 steals and 7.0 assists, and was the MVP of the Venus Tournament last weekend, where she averaged 30.5 points.
Connally will compete at the Bruceville-Eddy Tournament this weekend before taking on Fairfield in a rematch of last year’s bi-district playoffs on Tuesday.
A rose starting to bloom for Cougars
Put this name on your radar — John Reyna.
Reyna is one of the next generation of high school basketball standouts in Central Texas. A 6-foot-1 swingman at Rosebud-Lott, he has gotten off to a blazing start to his high school career, averaging 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks per game.
In his most recent outing on Tuesday night, Reyna pumped in a game-leading 25 points – including 10 in the fourth quarter – to push the Cougars to a 48-38 home win over Marlin.
Super Centex football nominations sought
Central Texas high school football coaches whose seasons are complete are encouraged to submit their nominations for the 64th annual Super Centex Football Team and 34th annual Super Centex Six-Man Football Team.
Nominations should include the players’ positions, heights, weights, classifications, any honors or awards that they achieved, and all pertinent statistics.
They can be emailed to Krista Pirtle (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Brice Cherry (email@example.com). Coaches may also submit their all-district teams, which will be published the same day as the Super Centex teams, in early January.
Super Centex volleyball on tap for Sunday
Speaking of Super Centex, the Trib’s 25th annual honor squad for volleyball will be announced in Sunday’s paper.
The Super Centex Volleyball Team started in 1994. La Vega’s Stacey Bowers was the inaugural Player of the Year, Connally’s Lhea Glockzin was the Newcomer of the Year, and West’s Pam Young won Coach of the Year honors that season.
The all-district volleyball squads for Central Texas will also be published Sunday.
Centex volleyball players nab all-state plaudits
A plethora of area volleyball players have earned all-state status from the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
Class 2A honorees from the area included Bremond’s Alvyia Peralez and Crawford’s Lexi Moody, Camille Ward and Anne Williams.
In Class 1A, Abbott’s Rachel Kallus and Allison Wolf, along with Blum’s Emma Rodriguez and Kylie Sanders, won recognition.
On the 3A side, West’s Hallie King made the all-state squad, along with Troy’s Alexis Tippit and Molly Tomlin.
In 4A, the all-state group consisted of China Spring’s Raelynn Faulkner and Lorena’s McKenzie Tuyo.
There were no all-state winners from the area in either 5A or 6A. The Texas Sports Writers Association All-State Team is expected to be announced later this month.
Hall of Fame banquet tickets on sale
Tickets for the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame’s 2019 banquet, which will be May 4 at the Ferrell Center, are on sale. They can be purchased by emailing Tiffany Wilkins at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (210) 290-8570.
The 2019 class will be recognized between the Class 5A Division I and Class 6A Division II state championship games on Dec. 22 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. It is highlighted by NFL greats Adrian Peterson of Palestine and Ken Houston of Lufkin Dunbar. The rest of the class includes Waco High’s Ken Casner, Coahoma’s Putt Choate, Daingerfield’s Willie Everett, Stephenville’s Jason Bragg, late Sealy coach T.J. Mills, coach Scott Phillips of Groveton, Waxahachie and Plano East, and television executive Jon Heidtke, the winner of the Dave Campbell Special Contributor to the Game honor.