Dalton Pokorny, senior, C

Dustin Kirkman sees it every day inside Hiett Gymnasium: 1984.

It’s been more than two decades since the Houston boys’ basketball program won a district title. The conference drought dating back to 1989 is nearly as long.

Kirkman twice had opportunities to win district titles as a player. But both times — in 1998 and ’99 — his teams finished second. He said each time he looks up at the plaque hanging on the gymnasium wall, he can’t help but think of what might have been.

Now that he is the Tigers’ head basketball coach, Kirkman is determined to restore the roar to a program that has endured one quarter of a century with little success.

“That’s not satisfactory to me,” Kirkman said. “I don’t want these boys to look back and think, ‘What if or if I had only played a little harder.’ I think about that myself, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. But I can try to give these boys a little perspective and put them in the right place to know they gave everything they had.”

The Tigers’ fourth coach in five years, Kirkman was hired in April after coach Brent Hall resigned following two seasons on the sidelines. A 1999 HHS graduate, Kirkman said it was his professional goal to return to his hometown. This season, which opens Tuesday at Mansfield, will be Kirkman’s first as a head coach.

“I came back to Houston for a reason,” he said. “I’m very proud of where I’m from, and it means something to me to see this program be successful. It isn’t about my job or career. I have something invested in this program and want to see it succeed.”

Kirkman inherits a team that went 10-15 last year and returns three starters. Houston lost the conference player of the year in Kyle Poynter, a two-time all-state guard who led the team in nearly every statistical category. Also graduated is guard Jesse Setters, the team’s second-leading scorer.

The backcourt is led by returning point guard Curry Van Horn. He will be joined by Weston Walker, the team’s sixth man last year, and returning starter Kaleb Poynter, who makes the transition from forward to guard.

A pair of freshmen will be in the backcourt mix as well. Devin Coulter and Aaron Cantrell will be a part of the regular rotation and are two of the team’s top perimeter shooters, Kirkman said. Lucas Cooperman will provide guard depth.

Senior Cory Scheets returns as a starter at power forward. His back-up is Jacob Kelley. Rodney Preheim and 6-foot-8 senior Dalton Pokorny will share time at center. Kirkman said Preheim, who has the best footwork and touch of his big men, will start.

With Van Horn and Walker starting together, Kirkman said the team essentially is playing with two point guards. When Houston grabs a rebound, the closest of the two to the ball will play the point. Kirkman is hopeful the flexibility will lead to transition baskets.

A key to the backcourt will be developing Coulter and Cantrell. Kirkman said both would play big minutes from the beginning of the season. The duo will be counted on to apply fullcourt pressure at times.

“We’re really emphasizing to them to be aggressive,” Kirkman said. “We know they are freshman, and the game is fast. The game will get easier for them the harder they play.”

Wins and losses aside, Kirkman hopes this season lays the foundation for the rebirth of the basketball program. He’s doing his part to make it happen. He voluntarily attends middle school practices before school each morning to assist coach Willy Walker and instill his philosophies. Walker returns the favor as a volunteer assistant in the evenings at the high school practices.

“We had a winning tradition here. I don’t know what happened,” Kirkman said. “When you get in a funk, the hardest thing to do is come out of it. Kids, parents and the community get complacent. When you expect to win and you do what it takes to win — work ethic and attitude — then your program turns around. I hope we’ll be able to get Houston back to where it needs to be and where we all want it to be.”

When you get in a funk, the hardest thing to do is come out ofit. Kids, parents and the community get complacent. When you expectto win and you do what it takes to win –– work ethic and attitude–– then your program turns around. I hope we’ll be able to getHouston back to where it needs to be and where we all want it tobe.”

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