The Enterprise Wildcats basketball team is coming off its most successful basketball season since moving to Class 7A last year, and hopes to build on that as the season starts up next week.
The Wildcats made it all the way to the Southeast Regional Finals after putting together a 24-9 record and earning runner-up in Class 7A, Area 3.
It was the first time the Wildcats have made it that far in the state tournament since the 2011-2012 season and was the continuation of an upward trend for the program since the arrival of head coach Rhett Harrelson in the 2017-2018 season.
Enterprise went 8-16 the year before Harrelson’s arrival and improved to 16-10 in his first year before winning more than 20 games for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.
“Each year I think we’ve gotten better at buying in and rolling into our roles and believing that we can compete so that we can tap into our full potential (as a team),” Harrelson said. “We’re not even close to being there yet, though. The biggest thing with us is in our heads.
“We beat ourselves and if we can limit those mistakes and errors that are self-inflicted and play to our potential then we could certainly go further (in the playoffs). It’s a new year and every team is different, though.”
Harrelson isn’t putting a number on wins or losses when it comes to goals this season. The Wildcats’ mission this year is much more simple.
“I just want us to get a little bit better each day,” Harrelson flatly said. “I don’t care about wins and losses right now. I care about our approach and if we’re ready to go mentally and our effort level.
“I want us to play hard every single day whether we’re in practice or a big game. We have to have an open mind and be willing to learn and get better with all of those things every single day.”
The Wildcats will open up the season a bit shorthanded as six of Enterprise’s 15 varsity players are also on the football team. Because of that, those Wildcat hoopsters haven’t been able to practice with the team much during fall and EHS football is still playing in the playoffs currently.
Harrelson – who also played football during his high school days – said that he wouldn’t have it any other way even though the Wildcats will start the season off without some of its key players.
“It really helps with toughness,” Harrelson said of the benefits of basketball players playing football, too. “I love it and I think it’s really for your athleticism overall. To be able to play two or three sports only helps you. Only good things can happen when you play multiple sports.”
Enterprise’s Jalen Cunningham, Josh McCray, Justin Winters, Quentin Hayes, KJ Couch and Jared Smith are all football players and are expected to be key contributors on the basketball team.
The Wildcats will also have to start the season without all-state power forward Dallas Howell, who is coming off of offseason ACL surgery. Just weeks after the end of last season Howell suffered the injury, and will start the season on the sidelines as he continues to recover.
“He’s doing everything he needs to do and more to get back healthy for this season,” Harrelson said of his star player. “The biggest thing is trying to hold him back and make sure he’s fully ready.
“He looks great, he feels great and he really wants to get out there. We fully believe in his (physical therapy) and the (doctors) that operated on him. He’s on schedule and improving each week with what he can do. “
Harrelson said that Howell has been putting up between 300-500 shots every single day along with his physical therapy to get himself back ready to play. While there is no timetable for his return, the Wildcats hope he will be back before the end of November.
“He has another checkup on Nov. 20, so he’ll be out until then for sure,” Harrelson emphasized. “We’ll see how that checkup goes and see if he can start practicing and getting him in game-shape and we’ll go from there.”
Harrelson said that he believes the sky is the limit for Howell when he returns from injury.
“That kid has so much more basketball left to play,” Harrelson said. “When he’s healthy he’s coming back with a vengeance.
“You can see it just being around him. He loves (basketball); He eats it, he drinks it. He can’t wait to be back out there and I know he’ll be just as good or even better than he was before.”
With so many players out, Harrelson said that the Wildcats will have to look to some of the younger varsity players – along with some JV players – to step up in the veteran players place early.
Harrelson pointed to juniors Damarion Holt, Simonique Harper and Jay Sconiers as players he expects to step up this season.
“We only have nine of our varsity players right now but some of those guys have really stepped up,” Harrelson said. “Simonique Harper will definitely get varsity minutes this year and Damarion Holt will handle the ball for us.
“Simonique and Jay Sconiers came in and were blowing my phone up all August and September at 6 a.m. to get in here and put up shots when no one else was here. I look for those guys in particular to step up and be impact players for us.”
Sophomore Quentin Hayes played a big role last season as a freshman for the Wildcats and when football season is over, Harrelson expects him to continue that.
“He had a really good summer with us but he hasn’t been able to be up here much during football season,” Harrelson said of Hayes. “I’ve seen him on the football field grow up and mature, especially with his toughness.
“He’s running hard and taking some big licks and that’s stuff you love seeing from younger guys. I think his toughness has improved a lot just being out there playing varsity football.”
Enterprise will jumpstart the season Nov. 11 at home against Carver, and the Wildcats will be honoring the military with Military Appreciation Night.
All current and retired military will receive free admission with a military ID and EHS students are encouraged to wear red, white and blue.
Also, the EHS JROTC will present the flag, while the Encore’s sings the National Anthem.
Along with honoring those American’s that have served the military, Harrelson said that he wanted to kickoff the basketball season with something special.
The JV boys will play Carver at 4:30 p.m. followed by varsity girls at 5:30 p.m. and the varsity boys at 7 p.m.