The great ones, it seems, prepare for greatness.
Even when they don’t necessarily realize it.
The Connally boys’ basketball team finished up a pregame walkthrough at its home gym in late January before the Cadets traveled just a few miles that night to play district rival La Vega.
Working on a last-second-shot play, Connally’s D’Andre Simmons came off a screen, caught the in-bounds pass and tossed in a shot from half court of the Cadets’ gym.
Later that night, when the real thing came along, Simmons ran the same play, caught the same pass and this time made a running jumper from a few steps outside the 3-point line.
See, it was easier for him with the game on the line.
“He made it happen for us,” Connally coach Quinton Snell said. “That stands out because we hadn’t beaten La Vega at their place in a long time.”
Simmons, the 2008 Super Centex Player of the Year, had to carry a heavier load for the Cadets during the 2008-09 campaign. Connally graduated four Super Centex players, including first-team point guard Chris Cobb, off a team that advanced to the regional tournament a year ago.
Though the Cadets weren’t the powerhouse this season that they have been in recent years, Simmons was no less brilliant.
Connally lost its final regular-season game against La Vega, sending the Pirates to the playoffs and ending the Cadets’ campaign. Still, Simmons’ 19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists per game elevate him above all other individuals in Central Texas this season.
Therefore, Simmons has captured his second straight Super Centex Player of the Year award. He’s the third in the 23-year history of Super Centex boys’ basketball to win the award twice and the first since James Hall of Waco High in 1996 and 1997.
Simmons said playing on a team full of younger players helped him grow as a person and gave him some perspective.
“The more situations I see, the more it’s going to help me in the future,” he said. “I had three winning seasons. As long as I learned something this year, it was worth it.”
Snell sensed before the season began that Simmons felt the strain of what was ahead. The coach told his returning star player to relax and “just play basketball, just be you.”
At times, Snell said, that meant getting the rest of the team involved. At other times, it meant Simmons took over the game.
In the Gatesville tournament in December, Simmons scored Connally’s final 15 points and finished with 33. Early in district play, he scored 36 for the Cadets in a game when the team scored just over 40.
“He was kind of like Magic Johnson in that sense,” Snell said. “Because he would get people involved and if he needed to take over he would take over.”
After committing to play football at Baylor late last summer, Simmons changed his mind in the fall and decided he was sticking with basketball, his first love.
Now that he’s finished his senior season, Simmons is considering college basketball offers. He said this week he has an offer from Houston and a visit scheduled to Lamar next weekend.
Whatever happens in the future, Simmons said he cherishes his high school memories, especially advancing to the regional tournament as a sophomore and junior.
“Those teams were great,” Simmons said. “We were all friends. That’s what really got us to the edge was that we were having fun.”
Simmons won his second straight Super Centex Player of the Year honor over a worthy cast of candidates.
University’s Randy Price showed his ability to take over games at several points throughout the season.
Midway posts Cameron Quinton and Jacob Neubert lifted the Panthers to the regional tournament.
Gatesville’s Dominique Moore came close to Simmons’ feat of averaging a double-double as Moore scored 19.2 points and pulled down 8.1 rebounds per contest.
And Itasca’s Desmond Guy lit up Wampus Cats opponents for 22 points per game.
Coach of the Year: Michael Kusler, Lorena
Coming into this season, there weren’t many reasons to expect the Lorena Leopards to rise to the top of District 19-3A.
From the outside looking in, the Leopards had reached the playoffs just once in the previous two decades. Their 4-6 district record in 2007-08 didn’t exactly scream that the Leopards were a program on the rise.
But from the inside, Lorena coach Michael Kusler knew they were close.
“We couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Kusler said about 2007-08, his second season in Lorena. “Three or four district games, we were ahead in the fourth quarter and couldn’t quite close them out.”
But when Lorena put up a similar effort against Corsicana in the season opener last fall, he didn’t worry. In fact, he knew the Leopards were making progress.
“After that, we played a couple of teams and beat some bigger schools,” Kusler said. “Our guys started seeing we could play with anybody. That helped us turn the corner.”
The Leopards made huge strides this season. For leading Lorena to a 20-11 record, the 19-3A title and the first-place playoff berth, Kusler has been named the Super Centex Coach of the Year.
He said the difference for the Leopards has been the players’ and parents’ commitment to the program.
“The last two classes, the parents of our kids have taken it upon themselves to get the kids playing in the summer,” Kusler said. “They kids played a lot against good competition. That’s a lot of it is how much they’ve done.”
Kusler will have all five starters, including Super Centex first-teamer Travis McAninch, and some key reserves back for the 2009-2010 campaign. So the Leopards won’t be the surprise team of next season.
“I think it’s developing well,” McAninch said. “Since Coach has gotten here, it’s come a long way.”
Kusler won the Super Centex Coach of the Year award over a pair of coaches who led their squads to the top of 16-4A. Midway coach Rusty Walker guided the Panthers to a district championship, while University’s Tarl Lloyd oversaw a resurgence in the Trojans’ hoops program.
Newcomer of the Year: D.J. Weathers, Mexia
Mexia freshman D.J. Weathers figured he’d be a role player for the Black Cats in his first season on varsity.
That viewpoint changed pretty quick.
“The very first game against Palestine, that’s when I saw it,” Weathers said. “I shot the first couple of shots and hit 3s. I ended the game with 15 points. That’s when I knew I had the ability to play.”
Weathers kept it going from there as he led Mexia in scoring with 14 points per game. He was the 19-3A Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-district selection. Now he’s added Super Centex Newcomer of the Year.
Weathers claims the top newcomer award over a pair of guards that played key roles for Midway. Jay Hook and Levi Norwood helped give the Panthers the backcourt they needed to complement Neubert and Quinton in the frontcourt.
Rapoport’s DeAndre Cammon also had a fantastic debut season as the school made its first appearance in UIL play. Cammon scored 11.9 points per game and added 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
Player of the Year: D'Andre Simmons, Connally
Newcomer of the Year: D.J. Weathers. Mexia
Reggie Davis Coach of the Year: Michael Kusler, Lorena
|G||Danzel Wilson||Sr||5-10||La Vega|
|G||DeChristian McKinney||Jr||6-4||La Vega|
|Hunter Perry, Cody Feight, Aaron Randolph and T.J. Samford, Bosqueville; Ezekiel Fielding, Connally; Phillip Page, Frost; Garrett Lam, Bryan Cobb, Garrett Johnson and Kevin Walters, Gatesville; Nathan Palmer, Lorena; Levi Norwood and Jay Hook, Midway; Josh Davis, Rapoport; Paden Schulte, Reicher; Noah Wible, TCA; Kevin Thomas, Universiy; Donte Hollis and DeLonte Allen, Waco High.|