The Justin Northwest boys basketball team’s reputation leveled up during its 2016-2017 run to the Class 5A state tournament in San Antonio.
That run and its 33-6 season continued what happened in the 2016 postseason. A stunning 60-54 win over Allen in the Class 6A bi-district round led to an appearance in the regional quarterfinals. It has galvanized what head coach what Mike Hatch’s program has become today.
There’s always a starting point.
“[The Allen win] changed our kids’ train of thought,” Hatch said. “It opened up roads for them down the line. If you beat Allen and then Duncanville with an OK team and play hard and do what you’re supposed to do, a lot changes.”
Northwest is a month into dealing with being at the top of the mountain. The Texans (13-3) began the season as the No. 1 5A team in the TABC rankings. They’ve “slipped” to No. 3 as they interrupted district season to play in this week’s Whataburger tournament.
The rush of playing in early season tournaments created game experience as the program has hurriedly blended in Granbury senior forward transfer Mason Hix (6-8) and Cedar Hill junior forward transfer Sammie Freeman (6-9).
Northwest’s roster is deeper than last year. Hatch can bring three of the bench and not lose much productivity. Senior 6-8 forward Darrell Simpson, an Oklahoma football signee who has been a starting center, is now coming off the bench.
That’s taken some of the burden off junior guard and national recruit Avery Anderson and senior swing Jordan Keys. They don’t have to carry the scoring.
“My job is easier with both Mason and Sammie out there,” Keys said. “Most people will key on them, and then I can get mine.”
Not every season is the same. Although this program’s success has continued, the attention paid to it by others is new. Keys has seen greater intensity from the opposition even in contests where the Texans are far more talented.
This is something each player expected. But it also hasn’t been a clean start. Northwest’s defense hasn’t been particular sharp but is still holding the opposition to around 35 percent shooting. The team is also not shooting very well at the free throw line, 65 percent.
The Texans have been a little loose with the ball. They committed 25 turnovers in the 72-68 overtime loss to reigning 5A state champion Mansfield Timberview recently.
“We’re just trying to hold each other more accountable now,” Keys said. “It’s important to take every defensive stop seriously. We can’t take the mindset that if we don’t make a play on defense, we’ll just make it up on offense.”
Yet most teams would gladly trade places with the Texans. They are firing on on cylinders on offense.
All of the hoopla and major events this program has played in has been out of respect. However, Northwest’s season is going to come down to its 14 District 6-5A games. The playoff push starts Tuesday at Saginaw.
“Our kids believe they are going to San Antonio,” Hatch said. “But believing it and making it happen are two different things. As for perception, every single year we strive to get the most out of our guys. The goal is the same: play as good as you possibly can by mid-February and see what you can do in the playoffs.”