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