Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
The 2013-14 season epitomized growth for the Mineral Wells Rams basketball team. Under the tutelage of head coach Aaron Pappas, the Rams played to a 6-4 record in District 6-3A, clinching a third place finish and a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
The season culminated in a controversial first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Wichita Falls Hirschi Huskies in Bridgeport. The Rams' 63-62 loss was called into question after Mineral Wells' coaches concluded – through an exhaustive film study – that the Huskies were credited with two points they never scored.
A sour end to the season was just one of many hardships the Rams had to endure. The loss of athletic senior DaShawn Hicks to a season-ending injury in late-December was a significant blow. At the time, Hicks was one of the team's leading scorers and a team captain.
"DaShawn was our leader on the floor," Pappas said. "Losing him hurt us more than most people know. He just could not be replaced."
Mineral Wells lost two of its last three regular season games in winnable contests against rivals Springtown and Castleberry. The losses meant the Rams would not achieve their goal of finishing second in 6-3A, but Pappas said those lumps and the postseason loss to Hirschi will only make the Rams stronger for next season.
"I think we gained alot of valuable experience this season that will carry over into next season," he said. "Losing to Hirschi in the first round of the playoffs was very disappointing, because we felt like we had our opportunities to win that game and did not take advantage.
"We will be returning the nucleus of our team next season, and the future looks bright. The most important factor going into next season is that we play as a unit and have confidence in each other to do what is best for the team. We need to set our goals and expectations higher and do whatever it takes to achieve those goals."
For all of the speed bumps along the road through 2013-14, the Rams also experienced their fair share of highlights.
In addition to qualifying for the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, Pappas pointed to two come-from-behind victories and a hard-fought loss as the season's shining moments.
The Rams paced the state's second-ranked team and eventual district champion Kennedale in early February, going blow-for-blow with the Wildcats for two-and-a-half quarters before Kennedale finally pulled away to secure a 85-49 victory. Junior guard Biren Clardy scored 31 points in the loss.
Junior guard Nick Wendt also scored 31 points when the Rams came back from 13 down to beat Chisolm Trail early in the season. But no comeback stood out more than Mineral Wells' improbable 65-62 victory at Castleberry.
Down by as many as 29 points at one point, the Rams stormed back from a 21-point, fourth quarter deficit to defeat the rival Lions.
As far as individual highlights, Pappas recalled sophomore Broderick Johnson's 17-rebound game in a big win against Lake Worth and junior Rascellis Williams stepping up his game overall to give the Rams a major boost during district play.
Mineral Wells loses five seniors from this season: guards Reece Tarver, Maceo Williams and Hicks and forwards Dalton Mitchell and Devon Edmond. Pappas said all five young men have paved the way for the underclassmen with their sacrifices and will be missed by their teammates and the coaching staff.
"Each and every one of them have personally meant a great deal to me as their coach, as well as their teammates, throughout the last four years," he said. "They put so much into our program and we can only repay them buy continuing to build on what they have already layed out before us. I can only say 'thank you' to these young men for their dedication, desire and passion they put into our program."
Although the seniors and their leadership will be missed, the Rams return a bevy of talent, including all five starters from the second half of the season. In all, Mineral Wells will maintain eight varsity players and gain Justin Hendrickson and Conner Bradshaw, both of whom played significant roles on Mineral Wells' junior varsity team.
Leading scorer and assist man Clardy will be back for his senior season next year, as will three-point specialist Wendt, defensive specialist Rascellis Williams and co-leading rebounder Juvaree Sutton. The Rams' other leading rebounder, Johnson, will only be a junior.
"Our expectations will be very high next year with the group of kids we have coming back," Pappas said. "The coaching staff is very excited about the team we will put on the floor next year. We will dedicate our time to improving on our weaknesses this offseason as well as continuing to better our strengths."
Like gold that is tested in fire, these returning players have overcome the trails of the 2013-14 season and emerged more refined than ever, with a steely resolve to improve on this season's disappointments. Pappas believes, with good reason, that the sky could be the limit for next year's veteran squad.
"Even though we did not meet our expectations this year, we have alot to prove next season," he said. "We have the core of our team back and are looking for the opportunity to be a top-25 team. Our goals will be lofty and we will work accordingly to reach those goals. We will be ready for the challenge."