Kingwood Park had a historical and magical season last year.
The Panthers won their first outright district title in school history and made the playoffs for the first time under coach Jeffrey Hamilton.
The momentum has moved into this season and K-Park is undefeated in District 20-5A play in defense of their district title and eye another deep playoff run.
“It’s a testament to the kids that we have,” Hamilton said. “We’re just lucky to have another group of high character kids who work hard. They’re committed and buy into everything that we do. The kids do a great job of playing together in the offseason and it has contributed to a great start and we’re hoping it continues.”
K-Park has had fireworks to start the season. The Panthers have four game-winning buzzer beaters that have shown that K-Park can handle adversity with the game on the line.
Hamilton would like to win with a big lead, but his team has won in all sorts of ways this season.
The Panthers can play a slowed down half court game and can play fast as well. K-Park is up for any challenge when the Panthers step on the hardwood.
“It has been very exciting,” said Hamilton on racking up wins with the buzzer beaters. “Coming into this year I don’t think we had any buzzer beaters last year. I think I have more gray hairs this year than I have ever had. This team really just finds a way to win and that’s what I’m most proud of. We’re doing it on both ends of the floor.”
Senior forward Kyle Connelly remembers how incredible last season felt and wants his senior season to be a memorable one.
Connelly currently leads the Panthers in scoring.
“This season has been exciting,” Connelly said. “After everything that we did last year, we still want to do the same thing this year but go farther. We just have to keep coming to practice and get better each day.”
To that end, Connelly has stepped into a bigger role being a leader. A transition that was smooth for the standout forward who seems to be able to do it all on the hardwood for the Panthers.
“Last year I was the only junior starting,” Connelly said. “I’m just trying to teach the younger guys what we learned from last year and the experience I have. You have to win every time you step on the court. I think that we’re better than most of the teams, but we have to go out and prove it every night and get those wins. We just have to stay hungry and don’t slack off.”
Josh Bartley is the starting point guard this year after spending time on the junior varsity last season.
Bartley brings a lot to the table being able to create his own shot, run the K-Park offense, get his teammates involved and knock down a 3-pointer when needed.
“Josh has been phenomenal,” said Hamilton of Bartley. “He’s a leader, defender, and scorer. He does it on both ends of the floor. He’s a coaches dream as far as replacing a District MVP. We’re at a good position with our team and Josh helps us get going for sure.”
Kingwood Park started the season not ranked in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Preseason rankings, but since then have been ranked No. 25 and recently climbed up to No. 24 in Class 5A.
Last season, the Panthers journey took them to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.
Hamilton and the Panthers are taking it one game at a time this season and will look to hoist their second district title banner if they take care of business.
“The key thing for us is to not be complacent,” Hamilton said. “We can’t just go through the motions. We have to bring it every day we’re at practice and every day that we have a game. If we take care of ourselves, I don’t think we will have any problems finishing district play. We control what we do, and we just have to remain focused and hungry.”