By Joshua Koch
HOUSTON – Winning builds tradition.
The more a team wins, the deeper they go into the playoffs, the more notoriety a program gains as a power and the more the pressure rises to continue that.
Entering its 10th season, Kingwood Park has gone to the playoffs in eight of its nine seasons, averaging 21.1 wins per season and have registered five 20-plus win seasons in that span.
First-year head coach Jeff Hamilton knows the tradition, hence why he wanted to lead the program into the future.
“Knew it was a storied program that has had a lot of success,” Hamilton said. “Kind of a no brainer to apply for that job and I was just lucky enough to get it.”
Hamilton became the third head coach in program history, coming back to the area after spending seven years at Graceland University and then last season as an assistant at Aldine Davis.
“There’s not a whole lot of difference, the biggest thing is learning how to deal with individuals,” Hamilton said about the difference between college and high school. “At the collegiate level you’re dealing with older kids so you have to bend a little bit and be adaptable to young kids.”
Heading into his first season as a head coach, Hamilton said he is about business but also wanted to connect with them on a personal level and not just be all about the X’s and O’s on the court.
The approach has worked.
Kingwood Park, after slightly stumbling out of the gates at 1-3, have rattled off nine-straight wins, including five in District 21-5A play, heading into the break.
“Lot of question marks coming into this year but these kids have really gelled well,” Hamilton said. “The system fits them well and the chemistry is great right now. We don’t have any selfish players and we don’t have any guys trying to do their own thing. It’s really all been about chemistry and doing the things we work on on a daily basis.”
The successful start, with just one varsity player returning from a year ago in Ethan Powell, a first-team all-district selection in 2015-2016, has been because of the defense.
Protecting the paint, not allowing anyone in there and coming out with the rebound to set up their get out and run offense, Hamilton said has been their philosophy and has worked.
In the final five games of the first half of the season, the Panthers averaged 65 points per game, scoring more than 70 in each of the last three games, while giving up just 50 points an outing.
“It all starts on the defensive end with us,” Hamilton said. “They’ve really done a good job and bought into the defensive philosophy. You can’t be a good team if you’re not a good defensive team. I’ve been really pleased and proud of the things they’ve done on the defensive end. It is what has really fueled this streak for us.”
Now for the tough part – finishing district strong and making the playoffs again.
After playing in a tournament in Brazosport during the holiday break, Kingwood Park dives right back into 21-5A play.
Five of the Panthers’ first seven games coming out of the break will be on the road before finishing the season with three of five at home.
“We can’t have any of those slip-ups against teams we know we should beat but we have to realize when you’re on the road you have to start with the mentality that you’re down 10,” Hamilton said. “So hopefully we can take care of business with teams we’re supposed to and we have to protect our house.”
Despite the hot start, Hamilton said they need to continue to get better at the little things and can’t get complacent or satisfied with where they are at.
For a program that has gone now 201-122 overall, made eight playoff appearances and been to the Regional Tournament twice the expectations are there.
Hamilton has high expectations and believe they will this year once again be one of the Kingwood Park teams to join the club of playoff contenders.
“I expect we will be a playoff team,” Hamilton said. “I think we will win 20-plus games. But like i said we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves but we’re going to play with that type of confidence. I think you have to. I think good teams play with that type of confidence.”