Friday, November 25, 2011

Hodge returns to lead Rocket basketball

The coaching carousel has come full circle for the Rocket basketball team, which has had four head coaches in four years. 
Coach Denis Hodge

Now, a program searching for stability has probably found it in lifelong Crittenden Countian Denis Hodge, who was a Rocket assistant on some of the greatest teams in recent memory.

Hodge, whose wife Shannon is the girls’ coach, is a fixture in Crittenden County athletics where he is already a member of the hall of fame.
Hodge replaces Brad Fraser, who was head coach just one season after taking over for another one-term skipper Chad Hayes.

Like any coach, Hodge wants to see his team have success in terms of wins and losses, but he also has a philosophy that transcends statistics. 

“We want to see a team that wins,” Hodge said. “I view this team as Crittenden County’s basketball program. When you have that type of view, you understand that you are representing the county, Marion, parents and the school system. That makes me look at things differently. 
We want to see how successful the kids become after they leave the program.”

Hodge expects his players to work hard and play with character, honesty and integrity. By doing these things he believes winning will take care of itself.

A 1986 CCHS graduate, Hodge has been pleased with the development of his team over the summer. In preseason, the squad is learning his philosophy on offense and defense. Hodge wants to play with an eight- to nine-man rotation, allowing the Rockets to implement a pressure defense and press the floor, limiting the amount of time the offense spends in half-court sets.  

“We want to play fast and spread the floor,” Hodge said. “If we don’t have that ability to pressure teams, we will fall back in to a man-to-man defense.”

He concedes his team is not the favorite to win the Fifth District, but he still has high expectations. Livingston Central is the team to beat in the league, he said. Despite the Cardinals winning the district crown last season, they also have a new coach and return four starters. Hodge has praise for every team in the district, but thinks his team can steal the championship. It would be the Rockets’ second since consolidation of the city and county schools, and first since 1998 when Hodge was an assistant under coach Jimmy Croft. 

“I believe in the locker room we think we can win it,” Hodge said of his team’s confidence. “We played Livingston three times this summer and it was within 10 points each time. We didn’t have our full team, missing two guards in those games.”

Crittenden will host the Rocket Christmas Classic Dec. 28-30, which will include Dawson Springs from the Second Region and First Region teams Reidland and Ballard Memorial. 

The Class A Second Region will pit Crittenden against tournament host Livingston. Webster County rejoins the Second Region small-school tournament this season and Hodge said the Trojans are the early favorite for the Class A tournament.

Crittenden lost starter Casey Oliver to graduation from a 6-18 team. 

Hodge describes Hill, a 6-foot junior, as one of the fastest players in the district. He will handle the ball a good bit for the Rockets and contribute to the up-tempo pace.

Thomas Scott, a 6-foot-6 junior, has been a pleasant surprise for the new coach. Hodge describes Scott as extremely competitive and having a fantastic work ethic. Teams will have to pick their poison when guarding Scott, who has improved his all-around game and will be the Rockets go-to player. Hodge said much of the team’s success will depend upon Scott’s performances. However, Hodge is quick to point out that this will not be a one-man team.

“I expect him to be the best player in the district. I have a lot of confidence in him right now,” Hodge said. “He is a terrible mismatch for other teams. If teams play us zone, he will shoot from the outside, and if you play us man-to-man, he will pick you apart.”

Devin Clark, a 6-foot-1 junior, will play center.

“He is going to absolutely crash the boards,” Hodge said. “He had a great summer and scored more than he ever has. He learned post moves and is our only true back-to-the-basket player.”

The coach said Clark reminds him of former NBA player Curt Rambis on the floor, willing to go after rebounds and not shying away from contact. 

Bobby Knox, a 6-foot junior, played center last season, but has transitioned to the backcourt. He worked hard on his shot over the summer and isn’t afraid to step out and shoot the three-pointer. 

“He will be another tough mismatch for teams. He’s a tough kid and a great rebounder,” Hodge said.

Aaron Owen, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, returns with plenty of experience under his belt at guard. While Hodge hasn’t named a point guard yet, you can bet Owen and Hill will be the top candidates. Having played AAU basketball, Owen has an edge in experience over many players his age. He will also be looked to as one of the Rockets’ primary scorers.

“He is one of the most experienced sophomores in the region,” Hodge said. “I expect Aaron to be a player who is calm under pressure, and he has a good mind for the game.”

Travis Gilbert is another sophomore who brings a good deal of experience to the team. The first-year coach describes Gilbert – an all-region performer in baseball and football – as always using proper technique and a three-point specialist.

Hodge has praise for junior Tucker Frazer as a player who has worked very hard this summer on his jump shot. He describes Frazer as a person of great character, who comes early to practice to improve his game. 

Even though it will be Hodge’s first year as the head coach, he’s hardly unfamiliar with the program, the team and its cast of characters. After all, Hodge has coached most members of the team at one point or another in other sports.

“I’ve been able to pick up on their strengths and I want to get every player in the position where he can be more successful – that is the goal and what we are working toward,” Hodge said. “When it’s all said and done come February, we will be right in the thick of things.”

Hodge brings with him two new assistants, Ken Geary and Matt McMain. Long-time assistant David Perryman is the only holdover from last year’s staff.

Lady Rockets prepare to defend title

After cutting down an unprecedented three nets in three tournaments last season and making the school's first trip to the Girls' Sweet Sixteen, Crittenden County's Lady Rockets are now reloading with a focus on another winning season. 

Despite graduating four of her starters, Lady Rocket coach Shannon Hodge is confident in her returning players to make history once again. 

Last year, Crittenden won the Fifth District championship for the first time since 1984. Hodge said repeating that is one of her team's goals.

"I enjoyed that history-making of winning the district title and we want to make it two in a row," Hodge said. "I think we have just as good of a shot as anyone in the district."

District archrival Livingston Central returns most of its players from last season. Hodge said the Lady Cardinals are the team to beat at this point. The Lady Rockets have several challenges ahead of them, returning only one starter and having just one senior on the team. However, Hodge believes last year's success and title run put her younger players ahead of the curve.

"Even if some of the returning players weren't the ones on the floor at the time, I think that experience changed them in their thinking," Hodge said.

"They had an experience that a lot of kids haven't had and my expectations are high."

Hodge hopes her young squad picked up valuable lessons from players who graduated. The hard work they put in paid off and she said this group must understand and continue the effort so good things will happen. If they keep the standard high, she believes this team will come out of the gates competitive and confident. 

"I think we may be a team that is searching for its identity at first," she said. "We will have to figure out how to put all the pieces together."

The offensive reigns fall squarely in the hands of 5-foot-7 sophomore Bailey Brown. She is the Lady Rockets' lone returning starter who averaged 7.3 points per game as a combo guard last season, running the point at times but mainly serving as the team's shooting guard.

Hodge said Brown will have to take a leadership role on the floor. She says the talented sophomore has the ability to do just that. 

"She has matured physically by leaps and bounds in the last six months," Hodge said. "The challenge now is for her to understand what I'm wanting and what it will take."

Mary Mattingly, a 5-foot-8 senior forward, will be the team's main post presence offensively and defensively. Hodge said Mattingly has to be able to score and rebound consistently and play well defensively against bigger post players. Hodge said Brown will draw a lot of attention and Mattingly has to be ready in the paint to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

"As our senior you expect a lot from her and I think she's got to get six to 10 points and rebounds a game for us," Hodge said. "Mary is a workhorse. She plays hard and will do what she has to do helping Bailey keep us all going in the same direction."

Davana Head, a 5-foot-9 junior, has the ability to be someone who helps pick up the scoring load. She can score inside and out, off the pass or dribble. Hodge has pushed Head in practice to be more consistent on defense.

"Davana can provide us with a nice matchup because she can play on the perimeter and she is taller than most people that will be defending her," Hodge said. 

Randa Leidecker, a 5-foot-6 junior, is someone who makes something happen when she is on the floor. She is always around the ball and Hodge is challenging her to buckle down on defense. She has good hands to get deflections and has the ability to shoot the three and run the fast break.

Maggie Collins, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, has to gain confidence offensively, but has the ability to get the six to 10 points a game along with picking up the same number of rebounds. Hodge was really impressed with Collins' defense in the post this summer, frustrating opponents with her aggressiveness. 

"I think she will be the person who will draw the tougher defensive assignment in the post because she is taller than Mary," Hodge said.
Kaitlin Binkley, a 5-foot-3 junior, is a good set shooter for whom plays will be designed. The coach expects her to get plenty of open looks at the basket from the three-point line. Binkley will back up Brown at point guard.

Chelsea Oliver, a 5-foot-8 freshman, is a pure athlete with raw potential, the coach said. When Oliver matures as a player, and gets everything together, she will really help the team out, Hodge said.

"She is very coachable and does whatever I ask her to do," Hodge said.
Juniors Taylor Lynch and Summer Phillips were junior varsity players last year and Hodge said they have to come out every day and battle in practice. 

"Summer plays really hard and has made improvements. She is really quick," Hodge said. "Taylor has good size and can help us in the post as she progresses."

Sophomores Ruth Gobin and Breanna Ford saw action this summer with the varsity squad, and may compete for playing time, Hodge said.

Mallory McDowell, a 5-foot-2 freshman, is described by Hodge as the Lady Rockets' next true point guard. 

"When she turns it loose and plays, she makes good things happen," Hodge said. "As the year progresses, she will come in and see some playing time. As she begins to learn the offense, she will have the ability to help us."

The Lady Rocket skipper believes her team has the physical capabilities to be very competitive. The mental approach is where she thinks the team faces the greatest challenge. 

"We have to discipline ourselves to be a good defensive team because that will create offense for us," Hodge said. "We have to have individuals willing to play within themselves and do what they are capable of doing. We have the pieces, but must have the patience to let it all come together."

Coach Hodge, who has won 208 of 469 games at Crittenden County, will be assisted by Heather Boone and Bristyn Prowell.