Life isn’t always fair — just ask the Prosper boys basketball team.
It was the bi-district round of the playoffs, and the Eagles had their backs against the wall. The game was tied at 49, but Frisco Liberty was inbounding the ball from the baseline with 1.8 seconds left for a chance to win. A few unlucky bounces resulted in a last-second layup attempt finding the bottom of the net, but it looked like time had expired before it went in, thus forcing overtime.
Instead, with instant replay unavailable, the referees gathered together and quickly confirmed the shot counted. In the blink of an eye, Prosper’s impressive season was over.
“It was a tough moment,” Prosper head coach Jonathan Ellis said. “It was a confusing time for 16 and 17-year-old kids.”
In turn, that moment has proved to be beneficial throughout the spring and summer. Four of the five starters from that game are returning as upperclassmen this season and are ready to not only avenge that loss, but relentlessly work towards an even bigger goal.
“Their passion and love for each other is outweighing that day,” Ellis said. “That day was fun for the first couple of weeks to get us going, but it’s really not on their minds anymore.”
The transition to the 2017-18 season has been seamless. Ellis will be coaching a group led by senior forwards Tavieon White and Zach Wrightsil manning the front line, three-point specialist Kyle Jessen at the wing and junior Josh Davis at point guard. Those four players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s scoring and snagged two-thirds of their rebounds each game last season.
Each of those players have carved out specific roles for the Eagles. Davis and Wrightsil attack the rim as primary scorers, White crashes the boards as an athletic finisher and Jessen stretches the floor with his shooting ability. Unlike last season, Prosper is familiar with each other’s tendencies, which can only help in adverse situations.
“All four of us go perfectly together,” Davis said. “We all have that one thing we excel at, and our chemistry is better because of that.”
Meanwhile, the group of starters will be joined by a bench that features seven new faces. Vocal leaders, including Wrightsil and White, are ready to help their new teammates make the jump from JV to varsity.
“It’s a lot more fast-paced,” White said. “There’s no more tick-tack fouls. You’ve got to toughen up.”
Even after having six players graduate, Prosper is still an experienced and mature group compared to last season. Davis and freshman Grant Shaw are the only non-seniors on this year’s roster.
The time they’ve all spent on the court will help in a transition to a new play style for the Eagles this season. Rather than slowing things down to execute a half-court offense, Prosper is looking to run in transition for easy buckets as much as possible. With length and athleticism scattered up and down their roster, the Eagles should be in line for a suffocating, aggressive defense as well.
“If we can play the game with more possessions, we’ll be tougher to beat,” Ellis said. “We want to play quicker, but they’re going to have to earn that.”
Expectations have been raised for Ellis and his team. Entering what’s likely their last season in District 14-5A, Prosper snuck into the preseason state rankings at No. 25 and has the talent to compete with anyone on any given night.
Winning the district will likely come down to a pair of matchups with reigning 14-5A champion and No. 12 ranked Little Elm. The Lobos are led by sophomore R.J. Hampton, who’s ranked as ESPN’s fourth-best sophomore prospect in the entire nation.
“Not every road is straight. They have bumps and curves, ups and downs,” Ellis said. “The season is going to be a grind just like it was every year of their lives. They just need to be ready for it.”
All things considered, the players are hungry to reach lofty goals this time around. Seeing fellow classmates thrive in volleyball and football has motivated them to not only make the playoffs, but make a deep run.
The Prosper boys have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row. Heading into their sixth year with coach Ellis, players are ready to put and end to that streak and redeem themselves after last year’s heartbreaking finish.
“It’s not really something you every move on from,” Wrightsil said. “At some point, you’ve got to focus on the next year and building up that chemistry to make sure we’re not in that position again.”