BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The two teams that battled in arguably last season’s best high school basketball game are serving up a rematch just days before Thanksgiving.
Lake Hamilton downed Little Rock Parkview 87-81 in five overtimes last season in a Class 5A state tournament quarterfinal in Sheridan.
The Wolves (1-0) will travel to face the Patriots (0-1) in Little Rock on Monday night.
“Win, lose or draw, we are going to find out a lot about our team early on in the season and this game will tell us a lot about where we are,” Pennington said. “It will tell us what we have to do to get better at or the fact that maybe we are ahead of schedule right now.”
There are several returnees from last season’s classic.
“Obviously from the game last year, we beat them in five overtimes in the state tournament so naturally, just from that, all the kids that are retuning from that on both teams, I know they are excited to play each other again,” Pennington said. “That was a game that everybody just talked about non-stop and it was just phenomenal. Both teams deserved to win. Nobody deserved to lose.
“Our kids have a lot of respect for their kids and I believe they do for us.”
Lake Hamilton was tabbed as the state’s preseason No. 1 in Class 5A by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper.
Lake Hamilton is no longer the hunters, but are now the hunted.
“We have talked about that and it is very, very different for us because we have always been the underdog and not really gotten the credit sometimes that we felt like we deserved,” Pennington said. “Now it’s there. I told the kids that ‘you have earned everyone’s respect, but know there is bull’s eye on your chest and you are going to get the best everyone has to offer every single night.
“It presents a new challenge, but a challenge that we are tickled to try and deal with.”
Lake Hamilton has a veteran squad back, including senior guard and Southern Arkansas signee Zac Pennington and junior guard Ty Robinson.
“We really like our team,” Pennington said. “Obviously we have got Zac Pennington, my son who is point guard and a two-time all-state player that is returning and signed with Southern Arkansas. I think he had a 4 to 1 turnover ratio in the first two games.
“I think Ty Robinson is one of the top five juniors in the state, without question in my eyes. He is averaging 27 points per game in those first two games and he will continue to do that.”
The talent doesn’t end with just those two per Pennington.
“We also have Charter Harris, who is a senior, a 6-5 kid that has played guard his entire life until recently. He has really grown and is playing like a 5 now.
“It makes us a tough match-up because we are basically playing five guards – it’s just we have two guards who have some size with Ty being 6-4 and Charter 6-5.
Charter is averaging 17 points and double digit rebounds.”
There’s also a impressive sophomore in LeBraun Christion.
“LeBraun Christon is a sophomore and the brother of Exavian Christon, that played at Louisiana Tech and is now a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt,” Pennington said. “His little brother is a sophomore guard for us and has scored double figures in both games and is really playing well for us as well.
“We like our team, we like our chances and we feel like our team gives us our best chance to win a state championship and to do the things that we came to Lake Hamilton to do.”
The basketball squad will add several football players this week with the school’s gridiron team’s season ending on Friday.
“We will have Easton Hurley come in, the quarterback, as a returning stater and all conference player for us in basketball,” Pennington said.
“We’ll also get another piece of size in Cooper Kent, who is 6-foot-4 and 240-pound post kid that will give us some size off the bench.”
Lake Hamilton blew out Paragould 88-in an exhibition game and then downed Forrest City 67-54 in its opener.
“The first game we had a benefit game with Paragould and we played really well offensively,” Pennington said. “They have one really good left-hand shooter…and we didn’t do as good a job defensively on him as I would have liked, but we ended up winning 88-35 so it is hard to complain with anything.”
The Wolves got to see a pair of former Razorbacks on the sidelines in this season’s lid-lifter.
“We had Forrest City in our first real game and they are really well coached by two former Hogs there in Marcus Britt and Trey Thompson,” Pennington said. “They (the Mustangs) are quick and super athletic.
“We started off really, really well and were up 41-20 at the half. Ty Robinson scored 18 points in the first half and really had it going.
“In the second half, I don’t know if we got tired – we don’t have our football guys yet so we are really only playing five or six kids at the moment – or if we just got a little stagnant with the lead.”
The shot clock being brought into he high school game has changed things up.
“With the shot clock, a 20-point lead is not safe anymore,” Pennington said. “It’s different. So we let them kind of hang around a little longer than we should have before we finally put the game away and won by 13.”
Little Rock Parkview lost to North Kansas City 69-54 on Saturday night.
Dallas Thomas, a 6-8 junior who has offers from Arkansas several other elite programs, had a team-high 23 points for former Razorback Scotty Thurman’s team.
“I think Dallas and Ty are a really good match up for one another,” Pennington said. “Dallas is probably more a little higher ranked nationally than Ty is because he is 6-8, but if I know Ty, he is probably looking forward to that match up.
“Scotty does a great job and I think a lot of him and how they do their program. And anytime you can go to Parkview and be successful, you had better write it down in a book because it doesn’t happen very often.”
Photo courtesy of Lake Hamilton Athletics