Hamilton basketball

Hamilton County’s top two returners are Denandre Johnson and Key’shun Zanders.

JASPER — Hamilton County’s boys basketball team returns without three top players from last year’s playoff team.

But coach Eugene Jones returns for his second season at Hamilton, and has six years experience coaching at the high school level.

The Trojans lost in the district championship game to Madison County last year, but ended the season in a regional semifinal loss to Hawthorne. They had several close games last year with a tough schedule to finish 12-16, but Jones said the schedule will remain difficult this year.

“Our record wasn’t an indicator on how talented last year’s group was, but we lose great athletes like Joseph Stockton, Aderias Ealy and Dharan Hawkins,” he said. “As of now I have Denandre Johnson and Key’shun Zanders returning to contribute in a major way, but we play 14 games against teams in higher classes this year.”

Hamilton plays in District 5-1A, and besides those tough teams, the rivals are Suwannee, Columbia and Madison County.

But Jones is more concerned about winning district games because those contests determine who gets into the postseason.

Practice begins Nov. 4, and the team will be set by Nov. 7. The first game is at Suwannee on Nov. 30, while the first home game is Dec. 3 against Lowndes.

“One of our goals this year is to win one game at a time, Anybody can be beat on any given day if a team is prepared to bring their ‘A’ game,” he said. “Another is mental mistakes. It’s difficult to lose when you are making the right decisions rather than the wrong ones.”

Jones wants to instill a good work ethic in his team, leadership from his top players and have players be forthright with each other in basketball and academics.

“Top players cannot be more about ‘me’ than ‘we.’ They have to figure out how to contribute when their shots aren’t falling,” he said.

The coach is grateful for last year’s team playoff run, and feels that this year’s team can do well, but it’s too early to tell.

“I’m very thankful to have made it to the playoffs. It is not a guaranteed experience that every coach gets to partake in,” he said. “I will say the team has potential to be just as good if not better than last years’ team.

“It is all based on how hard they are willing to work. If we don’t take the path of least resistance and force something that isn’t there, we are more than capable of beating each team we face.”

Jeff Shourds is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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