Brent Kell admittedly thought he was one year away from having another strong basketball season. After just a few weeks of practice, he’s already changed his mind.
The 2007-’08 Houston girls’ basketball team is still young and has some holes to fill, especially in the backcourt. But the Lady Tigers return two veteran leaders and bolster a frontcourt that is the tallest Kell has had in years.
“We have some question marks,” said Kell, who won his 300th career game during last year’s 16-10 campaign. “If we get those answered, we could really be competitive.”
Kell’s optimism begins with junior center Holly Thomas, a double-double machine who returns to the starting lineup after earning first team all-conference honors last season. She’s flanked by forwards Kate Harper and Amber Honig, giving Houston a front line of three 5-foot-10 players who should control the interior.
The backcourt is more unsettled. Kell is still looking for a running mate to junior Kendra Welch, the Lady Tigers’ returning point guard. Sophomore Shelbi Moore will likely start, but several players are contending for playing time. Kell also would like to develop some depth.
Kell said the open competition has made practices enjoyable. Houston has less than a week of preparation remaining before Monday’s season opener at West Plains.
“I just love to go in the gym. They’re working hard and have good attitudes,” Kell said. “Our practices have been real competitive. That’s something we didn’t have last year. I told them from Day 1 that I knew probably two kids that would start and the rest of the positions are wide open. I don’t care if it’s a freshman or senior. It doesn’t make any difference if they earn it.”
One position not up for grabs was at center, where Thomas returns after a solid sophomore campaign. Thomas led Houston in scoring (11.8), rebounding (9.3) and blocked shots (35) while shooting a team-best 47 percent from the field.
Without Lexie and Trezha Malam, who combined to average 19.1 points as the team’s second- and third-leading scorers last year, Thomas’ opportunites and numbers will likely go up.
“She should be a dominant force,” Kell said. “She’s as strong a player as I’ve ever coached. The other team will definitely be out to stop her.”
Harper, who sat out last season due to eligiblity rules after transferring from Skyline, and Honig give the Lady Tigers two more strong rebounders and post scorers. Kell said Harper may be the team’s best defensive player.
Erica Keeney, Megan Kell, Tori Burgess and Tina Maddox give Houston depth up front. Keeney, who Kell said is one of the strongest rebounders he has ever coached, has been hampered by a hip injury from volleyball season. She had a MRI Monday.
“We have pretty good size for once,” Kell said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much size across the board.”
Welch averaged 8.2 points and 2.4 steals and led Houston in assists (65) and 3-pointers (22) last season to earn honorable mention all-conference honors. Kell said he’d like to see Welch’s scoring average improve to more than 12 points per game.
Moore, who averaged 2.6 points and 1.8 steals, is the only other guard with varsity experience. The Lady Tigers will need contributions from Stephanie Dukes, Jessica Herndon, Danielle Pounds or Sarah Pierce off the bench.
“Our guards have to grow up quick,” Kell said. “We’ve got to find another guard or two to help take pressure off Kendra.”
Like last season – when Houston started 2-5 – the early portion of this year’s schedule will be challenging. But Kell said if his guards develop and his frontcourt becomes more physical, the Lady Tigers enjoy a strong second half of the season.
“Our pre-conference schedule is going to be really tough. We’ve got to be patient and realize we won’t win all those games,” Kell said. “But if we learn from them and don’t give up if we get a few losses, then I think we can be pretty competitive after Christmas.”