Though state championship banners hang from the rafters of the gym at Richmond Hill High School, the most recent came in 1994.
Still, last year’s boys’ basketball team looked for a moment like it was ready to hang a banner of its own.
The Wildcats, the No. 3 seed from Region 3-AAAAA, upset Jones County in the first round of the state tournament last winter, then gave No. 2-ranked Northside Columbus all it wanted before falling 61-56.
Not bad for a team that finished 12-17 under a first-year head coach, former Wildcat guard Bill Henderson.
Now, the Wildcats will try to build on last season despite losing a number of key players from last year’s squad, including guard Jeremiah Hill and big forward Nick Fitzgerald, a football standout who is working on graduating early so he can start taking classes at Mississippi State.
But the cupboards aren’t bare at RHHS. Pedro Reyes, Daniel Wilder, M.J. Hall and Isaiah Hill all return, and Henderson is excited about newcomers Branden Schreiber, Zach Bennett and Derek Lawrence. In addition, the coach expects good things from Hakeem Cunningham, Zane McKenzie, Jordan Jones and Andrew Walker, all of whom are moving up from the ninth-grade and JV programs.
They’ll need to work hard in Henderson’s team-oriented approach while also doing things the right way in the classroom and off the court. In a word, it’s about discipline for Henderson, who played for the legendary Jimmy Hires.
“We focus on making sure that we have a disciplined team in all aspects of the game,” Henderson said. “We want to make sure that our players take care of their responsibilities both in the classroom and on the basketball court.”
Henderson said his team has bought into those goals and have “put in the hard work and dedication necessary” to make them happen.
“We as coaches want to give them the best opportunity to be successful,” Henderson said.
At RHHS, that means playing good defense and slowing the game down.
“We tend not to get up and down the floor in a hurry, but we like to feel we have the ability to speed the game up if necessary,” Henderson said. We want to play man-to-man defense and play the game at a slower tempo … on offense we want to be patient with the basketball and make sure we do not waste our possessions.”
There’s also the need to play strong defense, rebound and avoid turnovers — all will be important if the Wildcats expect to succeed in one of the state’s top AAAAA basketball regions.
“We got ourselves in trouble last year by being careless with the basketball and committing too many turnovers, so there is definitely room for improvement in that area this year,” Henderson said. “The most important thing for us to do this year is work hard every day in practice and make sure that we are giving our very best effort in everything that we do.”
And if the goal is to build on recent success, then Henderson believes he has the right team to do it.
“We feel like we have a great group of guys that are focused on helping Richmond Hill basketball be as successful as possible,” he said, noting the team also wants to continue getting support from fans.
“We are very appreciative of the support that we get from the community,” Henderson said. “Hopefully they will have the opportunity to come watch the guys play.”
The Wildcats are off to an 0-2 start after road losses to South Effingham and Statesboro. Richmond Hill played at Liberty County on Tuesday and they take on the Panthers again on Dec. 3. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.