- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
Sean Van Winkle is beginning his fourth season as Hamilton High School’s boys basketball coach, and he sees a Big Blue program on the upswing.
HHS was 11-12 overall and 8-8 in the Greater Miami Conference last season. Van Winkle is 31-40 overall and 20-28 in the GMC during his Hamilton tenure.
“Honestly, I think the last couple years we have been an average varsity basketball team. You can statistically see that,” Van Winkle said. “But our program has been above average, and that’s what we’ve really put a lot of effort into.
BOYS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
“The feeder system we have with our Blue Stars and the connection that we have with our middle-school programs are strong. Our eighth-grade team won the GMC championship last year. Our freshman team won 18 games. So we’re trying to get that to the varsity level, and it’s starting to come now.
“When people interview for jobs, every single coach is going to say we’re going to build from the ground up. But when you actually have to do it, it’s tough. Hats off to all the coaches in the program. I think that grassroots work is really starting to pay off now. I think we can be an above-average basketball team now, and we’re planning to keep getting better.”
Hamilton returns two of its top three scorers from last year and is seeking its first winning season since going 17-6 in 2006-07.
Junior guards D’Marco Howard (6-2) and Jaylen Robinson (6-0) are the top returnees. Howard averaged 10.7 points and Robinson averaged 9.2 last season, and they converted 47 treys between them.
“Having those guys coming back is a big plus. They’ve been really receptive to coaching,” Van Winkle said. “You’ve seen what they can do with the ball in their hands. Now they’re trying to understand how to do other things when they don’t have the ball in their hands. If they’re not going to have it 95 percent of the time, how good are they going to be in that 95 percent? That’s what we’re talking to those two guys about every day.”
Junior guard/forward Daniel Brunck (6-1) and senior forward Cameron Benson (6-4) are back after playing every game in 2016-17, though they only averaged a combined 8 points per game. Brunck shot 41.4 percent (29 of 70) from 3-point range.
That’s about it for measurable varsity experience.
“Even though we have some returning players, we’re still young,” Van Winkle said. “But those guys coming up are system guys. We want to worry more about the day and what we’re doing to get better. Every minute that we’re playing or practicing, we can’t waste it. I think if you can take care of that, everything else takes care of itself.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
Junior Payton Pennington (5-10) will be the point guard after choosing to skip basketball last year. He’s a Charleston Southern baseball commit.
“He’s filling a position that we desperately needed,” Van Winkle said. “He’s had a very, very productive preseason.”
Senior forward Bryan Henderson (6-3) has moved up from the junior varsity. Van Winkle praised his offseason dedication and said he should be among Big Blue’s top rebounders.
Also expected to play a lot is freshman guard/forward Kurtis Reid (6-2), another college baseball commit (Louisville).
“He’s got a high motor and a high IQ, and he’s going to get a lot of minutes,” Van Winkle said. “He did a lot of work on his shooting in the offseason.”
Sophomore guard/forward Trey Robinson (6-5), Jaylen’s brother, and junior forward Daveon Williams (6-3) also figure to play contributing roles.
Senior Zack Morgan (5-11), junior Aquese Gilbert-Davis (5-10) and freshman K.J. Swain (5-10) are in the mix at guard. Senior Hosea Burnett (6-2) provides depth at forward.
GIRLS BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEWS
“We’re not real, real big, so we have to play real physical on defense and rebound like crazy. But we’re not real small either,” Van Winkle said. “We’re picking up full court a little bit more and want to be a little more aggressive that way. Right now, our two biggest issues are getting our guys to play hard and extremely smart all the time. We’re really far away from that right now.”
He said the 3-point shot is a significant part of Hamilton’s offensive mind-set.
“Everybody’s got a green light among the guards,” Van Winkle said. “But we feel like we have some guys that can attack the rim as well. We need to put more pressure on the defense and not just settle for shooting 3s.”
Big Blue will kick off the season at home against Northwest on Dec. 2. Their GMC opener will be at Middletown on Dec. 8 … it will be the final varsity game at Wade E. Miller Gym.
“This is a fun team,” Van Winkle said. “Can we compete in the GMC? I think we can. As far as where we are in the GMC, I have no idea. I think a lot of people are looking at Princeton as being the best team, but personally, I think it’s wide open.”