Hamilton’s Jaylen Robinson puts up a shot during a 60-34 win over visiting Lakota West on Jan. 5, 2018, at the Hamilton Athletic Center. game against Lakota West. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep basketball: Experienced Hamilton learning new system with Higgins

HAMILTON — The Hamilton High High boys basketball team had its first winning season since 2007 a season ago.

With two of the top scorers in the Greater Miami Conference returning, the Big Blue are being touted as a team on the rise.

According to first-year coach Kevin Higgins, the past is the past, and he is solely focused on the future.

“We don’t talk about last year,” Higgins said. “My thought is kids are kids and they don’t remember what they did last year. As a staff, we don’t talk about last year.”

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Hamilton was 12-11 overall and 7-0 in the GMC last season, graduating four. Former coach Sean Van Winkle stepped down after five seasons at the helm.

In steps Higgins, who left Lebanon after four years coaching the Warriors. This isn’t Higgins’ first venture in the GMC — he won two Division I district titles while coaching at Colerain.

“I have coached in the GMC, but honestly, I don’t know much about it currently,” Higgins said acknowledging he has heard his Big Blue team is a favorite in the league. “I know people might mention us since we return two of the top scorers, but that is not something we talk about. We just want to play important games at the end of the season, in February and March.”

Higgins inherits two stellar senior guards in 6-foot Jaylen Robinson and 6-2 D’Marco Howard. Robinson averaged 17.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 assists a game last year, while Howard averaged 17.8 points, 5.4 boards, 1.9 steals and 2.2 assists.

The Big Blue don’t have a lot of size with junior guard Trey Robinson the tallest player at 6-6. Higgins said that’s fine in his two-guard offense.

“We don’t have a true point guard,” Higgins said. “We will have a mix of players handling the ball.”

Both Howard and Robinson will be in the mix to handle the ball along with 5-10 senior guard Payton Pennington and 5-10 sophomore guard Jackson Lewis, according to Higgins.

Pennington averaged 2.6 assists last year and will see considerable time as HHS focuses on the half-court game.

Lakota West’s Myles Greenwood tries to defend a shot by Hamilton’s D’Marco Howard during a game Jan. 5, 2018, at the Hamilton Athletic Center. Host Big Blue won 60-34. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

“We are doing all right,” Higgins said of his squad’s adjustment to a new coach and new system. “I have been pleased so far. We have shown signs of improvement.”

Higgins said Hamilton’s lack of height will put an emphasis on speed, with the Big Blue going to a smaller, less traditional lineup at times.

“We are not real big,” Higgins said. “(Trey Robinson) is more of a perimeter player, so there are times we may have five guards out there at the same time.”

While size is a weakness, Higgins said the Big Blue will focus on improving in the halfcourt with hard nosed man-to-man defense.

Asked about a more up-tempo pressing style when the Big Blue go with five guards, Higgins said that hasn’t been a focus so far.

“Our defense will continue to be a focus,” he said. “We are focused on half-court defense and work on it daily.”

While Howard and Robinson have the statistics, Higgins said he has some returning players who will step up this year.

One is 6-2 sophomore forward Kurtis Reid, who averaged 5.9 points and four rebounds a game last year and should help the inside game for Hamilton.

Higgins said keep an eye on a couple of juniors and a sophomore who will make an impact for the Big Blue.

Juniors Khalil Daniels, a 6-0 guard, and Kristian Walton, a 6-2 forward will see significant minutes, as will 6-4 sophomore forward Romello Diablo.

The Big Blue will be road warriors for the first part of the season. Due to work being done on the floor at the Hamilton Athletic Center, Hamilton will play seven of its first eight games on the road. The one home game during that stretch (Dec. 28 against Lebanon) will be held at Garfield Middle School.

Hamilton Big Blue

Coach: Kevin Higgins (first season)

2017-18 Record: 12-11 overall, 7-9 GMC (fifth place, tied)

OHSAA Classification: Division I

Schedule: Nov. 30 — at Northwest, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 7 — at Middletown, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 11 — at Princeton, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 14 — at Oak Hills, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 21 — at Fairfield, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 22 — at Fort Thomas (Ky.) Highlands, 3:30 p.m.; Dec. 28 — vs. Lebanon at Garfield Middle School, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 29 — at Springfield, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 4 — Lakota West, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 8 — at Colerain, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 11 — at Lakota East, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 15 — Fairfield, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 18 — Sycamore, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 22 — La Salle, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 25 — Mason, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 29 — Middletown, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 1 — Princeton, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 2 — Harrison, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 5 — Colerain, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 8 — Oak Hills, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 12 — Lakota East, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 15 — at Lakota West, 7:30 p.m.

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