With four all-district starters returning from the program's first district championship squad since 1991, expectations for the Brownwood Lions are sky high heading into head coach Nadir Dalleh's fourth season guiding his alma mater.
Dave Campbell's Texas Basketball magazine and the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches have projected the Lions — who posted a 22-11 overall record with their first postseason victory since 2012 — to repeat as District 7-4A champions, and Brownwood was just outside the Top 25 in the preseason state rankings.
“What we have coming back will be four starters that were all named to at least first team all-district along with four other lettermen,” said Dalleh, who owns a 60-36 record at Brownwood. “We lost some key seniors that played big roles, but with the bench from last season and some kids that played key minutes on the JV we hopefully will pick up where we left off. Just like last year, we will be waiting for some guys out of football and hopefully that will be a while and that will give the guys here already a chance to see some good varsity minutes.”
The Lions tip off the 2019-20 campaign at Warren Gym at 1:15 p.m. Saturday with a visit from the Lampasas Badgers. Brownwood then ventures to the AT&T Center in San Antonio — home of the NBA's Spurs — at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25 to tangle with Class 5A Georgetown.
The non-district schedule also includes dates at Bangs (Nov. 26), home against Dublin (Dec. 3), at San Angelo Lake View (Dec. 10), home against Abilene Cooper (Dec. 17), Burnet (Dec. 20) and Graham (Dec. 31), at De Leon (Jan. 3), at Hillsboro (Jan. 7), at Lorena (Dec. 10), and at Eula (Jan. 14). Brownwood will also host the TexasBank Holiday Classic (Dec. 26-28) and compete in the Dublin (Dec. 5-7) and Hamilton (Dec. 12-14) tournaments.
“I want us to gel a lot sooner this season,” Dalleh said. “Last season it took us to the Holiday Classic before we started showing our potential. I would love to see everything click and see what these young men can do.
“I believe the biggest area of improvement will need to be on the defensive end. I plan on implementing some things that will help that. With our quickness and athleticism, we should be doing more on defense that will help our offense.”
Experience is among the greatest strengths for the Lions this year.
“We will return eight lettermen and seven of those will be seniors with three of them playing key roles since they were sophomores,” Dalleh said. “We will be senior heavy which is always great to have not only on the court but for leadership for the future players.”
Returnees to watch begin with reigning District MVP and all-region senior Zach Strong.
“Zach will be key for us,” Dalleh said. “He is a leader and we will be looking for him to take that role to a higher level this year. All-District guards and seniors John Wilhelm, Adonis McCarty and Isyah Campos will also be key players to watch. Wilhelm finished in the top five in the state on three-pointers made (98) in Class 4A. He led the team in scoring and we will need that again for sure. Campos has played key minutes on the varsity level since he was a sophomore. He is our ball handler and will fill that role again. McCarty has been on varsity since he was a freshman. Watching this young man grow to his potential the second half of last season was fun to watch. When he goes, we all go. There will be plenty of experience that played big roles off the bench last season with Beau Bronniman, Cooper Swanzy, Theo Bryant and Darrell Williams.”
Newcomers to keep an eye on include Josh Baucom, Brandon Hamrick and Drew Huff.
“Baucom and Hamrick played well on the JV last season and will get plenty of time on varsity this season,” Dalleh said. “Huff transferring in from Mineral Wells will help us tremendously. He was one of their top players and to get a player who has played a lot of varsity minutes is invaluable. There are also some guys that I am looking to add but I want them playing a lot of minutes and getting better instead of sitting on a varsity bench. It’s a good deal when you know some younger guys can step in and help. The future looks bright as well.”
The 7-4A slate begins Jan. 21 at Stephenville followed by home games against Mineral Wells (Jan. 24) and Glen Rose (Jan. 28) and a trip to Godley (Jan. 31) to wrap up the first half of district. The second half of league play begins Feb. 7 at home against Stephenville followed by journeys to Mineral Wells (Feb. 11) and Glen Rose (Feb. 14) and the home and regular season finale against Godley (Feb. 18).
“Our district is very competitive and will probably come down to the last night of play to determine the outcome,” Dalleh said. “Every team in the district returns their key players, so everyone will be a lot better than last year and there should be some fun games to watch.”
In regard to how good the 2019-20 Lions could be, Dalleh said, “I believe this team can make a good run at the district championship again and also make a good run in the playoffs. We will have to stay healthy and not rely on last year's results for this year's outcome. Everyone will be shooting for us and that’s a role that I think these kids take on very well. We will have to play together and consistent to make this season a success.”