Big Blue basketball: Building the program from the bottom up

Hamilton High School boys basketball coach Sean Van Winkle is liking the big picture, even if his 2016-17 squad doesn’t have much experience.

Big Blue went 12-12 last season, their first non-losing record since going 17-6 and winning the Greater Miami Conference title in 2006-07, and Van Winkle has put a lot of time and effort into developing the Blue Stars youth program.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Van Winkle, beginning his third season at the helm. “I feel like the program’s in great shape, and we truly build it from the bottom up. Our youth program went from 105 three years ago to 250 now, first grade and up.

“I always use the quote, ‘Don’t sweep the porch when the house is on fire.’ I think a lot of times you really get keyed on your varsity team and don’t worry about the rest when the rest could be a complete disaster. We feel like we’ve got a great foundation so that our lows hopefully aren’t going to be real low around here.”

HHS is starting this year the hard way, and that’s without 1,000-point scorers A’Shon Riggins and Ryan Robinson, who are at Indiana University (for football) and Taylor, respectively.

“The first two practices we kept looking around hoping Ryan and A’Shon would walk in at some point … it didn’t happen,” Van Winkle said. “But we have some really good kids and some returning guys that saw some time.

“Cautiously optimistic are words everybody uses. We are cautiously, cautiously, cautiously optimistic this year. It’s a team that can truly get better as the season goes on. They’ve got a lot of energy in practice. It’s fun to be here right now.”

Senior forwards Myles Howard and Hunter Hamilton are among the returnees, along with senior guard Eric Jackson. Senior forward Vince Sanford is also back, but he’s recovering from a knee injury in football. His status for the season is a question mark.

The 6-foot-4 Howard averaged 7.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year. Sanford, Jackson and Hamilton, the team’s tallest player at 6-6, combined for 9.7 points a contest.

Van Winkle said a player to watch is 6-1 sophomore guard D’Marco Howard, who averaged about 20 points per game last season at the junior varsity level.

“D’Marco might be one of the best sophomores in the GMC,” Van Winkle said. “He’s a natural scorer. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”

He said Hamilton, Myles Howard and 6-4 junior Cameron Benson are battling for two starting forward positions.

The top guards are D’Marco Howard, Jackson, junior Johnny Jones, senior Tyrique James, and sophomores Jaylen Robinson and Daniel Brunck.

Adding depth are senior guard Daizure Morris and Aaron Perry, junior forward Brian Henderson and sophomore forward Daveon Williams. Van Winkle said the 6-3 Henderson has looked solid after sitting out last season.

“Our backcourt is very inexperienced,” Van Winkle said. “We’re a little more athletic than what we had last year, but it’s young athletes. We want to hang our hat on defense around here, but we have a long way to go in that area.

“We’re trying to get this to be a player-led team, and we’re not there right now. We’re close, but we’re more of a coach-led team.

“Right now, we’re trying to get the ball inside as much as we can, which is a little opposite of what we did last year. Guys like Myles and Hunter and Cam can score inside. Do we have capable shooters? Yes, but I don’t know how good we are as decision makers.”

He pointed to Princeton, Oak Hills and Mason as the top teams in the GMC. “Then you’ve got all the rest of us,” Van Winkle said.

His varsity coaching staff has changed very little since he’s been at Hamilton, with Mark Hiegl, Justin Beck and Bryce Taylor handling varsity assistant positions.

Jimi Sizemore (head JV), Jake Turner (head freshman), Kevin Miller (JV and freshman assistant) and A.J. Jackson (volunteer assistant) round out the staff.

HHS opens the season at Northwest on Saturday.

Hamilton Big Blue

Coach: Sean Van Winkle, third season

2015-16 Record: 12-12 overall, 7-9 in the Greater Miami Conference (fifth place, tied)

2016-17 Schedule (all start times 7:30 p.m.): Dec. 3 — at Northwest; Dec. 9 — at Oak Hills; Dec. 13 — at Lakota East; Dec. 16 — Lakota West; Dec. 23 — Mount Healthy; Dec. 27 — at Beavercreek; Dec. 30 — Lebanon; Jan. 3 — Sycamore; Jan. 6 — Mason; Jan. 10 — at Princeton; Jan. 13 — at Middletown; Jan. 17 — at Talawanda; Jan. 20 — Oak Hills; Jan. 24 — Fairfield; Jan. 27 — at Lakota West; Jan. 31 — Colerain; Feb. 3 — at Mason; Feb. 4 — Harrison; Feb. 7 — at Sycamore; Feb. 10 — Lakota East; Feb. 14 — at Colerain; Feb. 17 — Princeton