While a Division I talent returns, Park Hill knows a playoff return hinges ondevelopment.
The Trojans went 21-6 a year ago and earned a second district title in a span of four years, but they went cold in a Class 5 sectional loss to Liberty. There were four seniors on the roster, including a pair of starters and a key reserve, but the expectations won’t change.
“We had a lot of seniors last year, and we had a really veteran team,” Park Hill coach Chad Jones said. “But we’re returning a really good group so those guys last year were used to winning and they kind of took that mentality into the summer. We had a really successful summer with the group that we brought back, and we’re looking forward to a really good year again this year.”
Park Hill returns an experienced lineup, including senior guards Ronnie Bell and Willy Majok.
Bell recently signed to continue his career with Missouri State after averaging 13.7 points per game as a junior. Majok runs the point and averaged 5.0 points per game while working in an offense with four go-to scorers.
Bell and 6-foot-10 junior Roman Wilson could be the only two back out of that bunch.
A three-year starter, Dru Smith became Park Hill’s leader, scoring a team-high 14.3 points per game but also leading the team in assists as a versatile combo guard. Chester Graves, a bruising 6-foot-5 forward, also averaged double figures in scoring and ranked second in rebounding behind Wilson.
Park Hill also must replace the bench minutes of Tyione Stewart, who hit 13 3-pointers as Jones’ top reserve.
“We’ve got some guys that can fill those roles, and even though they didn’t get very many minutes last year, they know the system; they know what’s expected,” Jones said. “When you’ve got someone like Ronnie Bell leading the way, it gives you a level of confidence that you might not have otherwise.”
While Smith led the way in scoring by the end of the year, Bell made the most flashy highlights for Park Hill with his outside shooting and ability to throw down dunks in traffic.
Wilson averaged 9.0 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game. He also blocked 82 shots and could team with senior Cecil Lee to form a potent inside combination.
As a junior, Lee blocked 37 shots and scored 2.4 points per game as the No. 2 reserve in minutes.
“Defensively, we’ll be solid,” Jones said. “We’ve got three or four big guys inside that we’ll be able to run out there, and people may think that Chester Graves graduated so they’re not going to have any bigs, but we’ve got a couple that are ready to roll that were just behind some talented guys last year.”
Park Hill will also have seniors Mitchell Baack and Michael Engelbert on the roster, while Nic Zeil will be a junior back after a season cut short due to injury. Their minutes should increase with both Majok and Wilson currently ineligible but potentially returning to the lineup in December.