After a promising start, the Fort Mill High Yellow Jackets hope they can learn from last season and correct the mistakes that doomed a great start to a not-so-great basketball year.
Under long-time head coach Bailey Jackson, the Yellow Jackets raced out to a 16-0 start last season, only to stumble down the stretch to finish 18-7.
Guard Jon Brown said the team self-destructed last year through in-game letdowns and bad off-the-court disagreements.
Brown said this year will be different. Brown and the Yellow Jackets entered this season with a new coach, Dwayne Hartsoe, and have played well.
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Hartsoe has 19 years of experience and employs a more up-tempo style, which is great for a team that lacks experience and whose tallest player stands just 6-feet-5-inches tall.
"We have taken well to the up-tempo style, and coach makes us feel that we are OK if we make mistakes," Brown said. "We love his style, have a lot of respect for him, and the guys love playing for him."
Only seniors Brown and Riley McGillan and junior Kevin Woods have varsity experience.
"It can be frustrating at times, especially early in the year," Brown said. "We have so many inexperienced players, guys who played on the JV team last year but didn't even get a lot of playing time there, and we are starting with a new coach and new system."
Brown has grown from a sparingly used sharp-shooting sophomore to an all-around leader.
"I really didn't know the meaning of hard work when I was a sophomore, getting playing time here and there. I thought I was working hard, but these last two years I have been in the gym 24-7 working on all aspects of my game," Brown said.
"I was just a shooter as a sophomore but have developed my game and grown as a person."
Brown, who said he's excited to be a team leader, spent the summer away from the court learning what being a true leader is. He volunteered for the Samaritan's Feet nonprofit group, was nominated a South Carolina Discus Award winner and was a Palmetto Boys State representative.
Each task taught him about life, leadership and being a good person.
"Samaritan's Feet was eye-opening and a life-changing event for me," Brown said. "We were able to give shoes to families who couldn't otherwise afford them. To see the looks on people's faces was a priceless experience for me."
Brown applied his Samaritan's Feet experience and what he learned being nominated for the state DISCUS award and his volunteer work with the Palmetto Boys State, where he served in the S.C. House of Representatives.
"The Discus Award is something my mother and I have been applying to a lot. If colleges are going to look at me, I want them to see much more than a basketball player ... I want them to know I am well-rounded as a student, an athlete and a leader," said Brown.
Hartsoe said that implementing a new style is hard, especially with a team that lacks game experience, but he thinks Brown is the leader to make the transition.
Brown said he has learned what brings good teams down and is determined his senior season will be something he will be proud of.
"I have learned that hard work is the only way to get better, and in the end it will pay off for you," Brown said. "We are working hard every day to get better, and we will become a much better team as the year goes on."