Nov. 18—DANVILLE — The Schlarman boys basketball team have had turnover the last few years with the last three coaches going just a season.
New Hilltoppers coach Zach Davis wants to stop that trend and his pedigree suggests that he can do that.
"I went to Peoria High and I was blessed to be in some great teams including the state-winning team in 2004 with great coaches," Davis said. "I went to Parkland and transferred to Southern Illinois and then I started working for the Sheriff's office in Vermilion County."
Now he comes in to coach a team that is looking for a fresh start once again.
"It's a new round for everyone," Davis said. "The seniors have probably had a new coach every season, which is unfortunate because they could never get into a groove. It is a new team and we are looking for a leader. We have Jamarrea McNeal and Ricky Soderstrom as our seniors and we have a few good freshmen and juniors that will do great. If the guys are confident in their skill level, I think we can surprise some people."
With players from last year like Keison Peoples (Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin) and Jerry Reed (Danville) elsewhere, Davis will have to depend on McNeal, Soderstrom and the development on the younger players on the team.
"Noah Fowler is freshman, a good shooter and looks for his shot," Davis said. "By the time he learns how this is a faster game and a stronger game, I think he will be a phenomenal player in his junior or sophomore year. Peyton Kuemmerle is a sophomore He's aggressive and a slasher. If he gets stronger with the ball, I think he will be an asset for the team. Princeton Rush is a freshman and is quick and a defender and goes after it.
"They have to realize that it is not like junior high. We want to leave the past in the past and start something new. They have locked into practice and they are ready for the season. "
The Hilltoppers will start the season with the Topper Classic on Monday against Covington. Davis said there will be colorful changes in the 55th edition of the Classic.
"Just being around the area for the last 14 years in the Danville area and six years in the Schlarman program, the Topper Classic is big," Davis said. "I am excited to coach in a tournament. It will be a different look.
We have a partner in the tournament with Leadaz Sports and artist Javae Wright out of Champaign. He is going to come in and show his customizable jerseys at the tournament and that brings something different that hasn't been seen in the past. I think the administration with (Schlarman Athletics Director) Bob Lehmann and (Assistant AD) Corey Richardson has bought in to what we have done. I heard it was one of the best tournaments around and we want to get it back to that level and invite more teams in the future."
The Blue Devils are coming off a fourth-straight Vermilion County title and a drive to a regional championship game. BHRA lost players like Brett Meidel and Hayden Rice, but return senior Ayden Ingram.
"We are looking forward to a great season," BHRA head coach Gary Tidwell said. "Ayden was a first-team All-Conference and he had a great year last year. Micah Stanford played at point last year and built up some great experience and has gotten stronger. Keison Peoples adds a lot of ball-handling and scoring."
Tidwell said that Peoples have meshed well with the team and has increased the potential for the Blue Devils to be the fastest team in the county.
"He's working really hard. He has good knowledge of the game, he has a real good skillset and has a passion for the game and that can't be taught," Tidwell said. "We are happy to have him in the program and he's done a great job so far in the first weeks of practice. He is going to have a good year and gives us more options in the perimeter.
"We are going to be tougher to guard and he brings quickness that we haven't had since Drew Reifsteck, Elijah (Tidwell) and Avery (McConkey) in 2020. We have five guys that are interchangeable and can hit the 3-point shot. We have an 7-8 man rotation that can handle the ball and shoot. ... We are going to play fast."
While Tidwell said height will be an issue, he said the team will be ready for the conference season and a tough non-conference schedule.
"Each team is different. As the senior class moves on, others move in. We have great coaches that do a good job, so they are going to have their teams prepared," Tidwell said. "There are some guys like Hoopeston, Oakwood and Westville that will be solid. It is going to be a competitive conference and county.
"We have the Topper Classic next week and we have beefed up our non-conference schedule. We will get Prairie Central on the Road and Berea Christian from Brownsburg is an up and coming team and of course we have St. Joe and Unity. We have some great tests early in the year and we are looking forward to it. We have an unconventional team, and I think it will be an exciting brand of basketball that I hope the whole community will love."
Salt Fork has been close to BHRA in the last few years and will try to overcome some big losses.
"We don't have anyone that is 6-6 down the middle like Garrett Taylor, but we have some serviceable post players that will do well for us," Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said. "Blake Norton was extremely productive for us. We have guys that can fill those roles instead of depending on one or two guys.
"We have Jameson Remole, who has had a lot experience underneath his belt, Evan Webb and Hayden Chew has a lot of experience from last year. Ty Smoot, Grant Wilson and Kamdyn Keller have the ability and experiences from last year that they can step up and do a good job for us."
Johnson, who is also an assistant for the football team, has a few players from that team on the court — including Remole, who was honorable mention in the Vermilion Valley Conference last season.
"Anytime that you can work with kids in different environments, you build a strong bond with them, so having them on the football field is transferable in many areas. I am fortunate to coach them," Johnson said. "It is not like he (Remole) is doing this alone, but he will have to step up for us in being a guy who was part of our success from last year."
Johnson is confident about his team once again being in the mix, but they have to be focused to do so.
"It's always been really competitive. I look at it is that if you are not ready and well-prepared, disciplined or fundamentally sound, anyone can give you a bad night," Johnson said. "I think it will be a competitive year. BHRA has won the last four county titles, so they are going to be on top until someone knocks them off."
The Tigers will return Drew Wichtowski, who was a third-team All-Conference last year and will also include Cameron Steinbaugh, who comes in from Georgetown-Ridge Farm.
Oakwood will return people with experience like seniors Derek Drews, Brody Taflinger, Bryson McDaniel and Alec Harrison. Armstrong-Potomac will return All-VVC second team selections Kollin Asbury, along with Nathan Rogers and Cole Bailey. Hoopeston Area will have seniors Kendrick Sigerill, Owen Root and Wyatt Eisenmann to lead the way.