By Rubin E. Grant
Homewood boys basketball coach Tim Shepler was cautiously optimistic entering this season, especially since he had a senior-laden team.
“We had our hopes that if everything went well, we would have a pretty good team this year,” Shepler said last week, a night after the Patriots posted their 20th victory of the season with a 51-36 rout at Shades Valley.
“We’ve had guys who have stepped up and are buying into what we’re doing,” Shepler added. “We play about eight or nine guys. We’ve had five or six kids who have scored in double figures in games.”
The Patriots have 10 seniors, reminiscent of the 2015-16 team that won the Class 6A state championship, the first boys basketball title in school history.
Senior forward Logan Padgett was a freshman that season, so he understands what experience means to a team.
“This year is a lot similar situation to my freshman year,” Padgett said. “You have a different level of chemistry since you have been playing together for several years. It’s good being with guys I’ve been playing with since the sixth or seventh grade.”
With such an experienced team, practices sometimes are more competitive than games.
“We’ve got some competitive kids,” Shepler acknowledged. “Our practices are very competitive.”
Since starting the season 5-3, Homewood has gone 15-3 with winning streaks of six and seven games, plus two strong showings in tournaments in December.
The Patriots traveled to Orlando, Florida, the week before Christmas for the KSA Events Classic. They dropped their opener 50-43 to Palos Verdas Peninsula (California), but bounced back to beat Monarch (Colorado) 50-31, Bishop Shanahan (Pennsylvania) 59-56 and Dunbar (Florida) 59-48.
“We played some good teams in Orlando,” Shepler said. “We won three out of four, which was good news for us. We got adjusted and everything started to come together as a team.”
It’s no coincidence that happened with the return of senior guard Larkin Williams. He missed the first 14 games of the season because of a foot injury related to football. Williams, who has a scholarship offer from Berry College to play football and basketball, was the Patriots’ starting quarterback as they reached the Class 6A quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual champion Pinson Valley.
“He knows what we need and the ball happens to be in (his) hands a lot,” Shepler said.
“He’s got a coaching mentally,” Padgett said. “He doesn’t score a ton of points, but he’s a great facilitator. He makes sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be on the court.”
After Christmas, Homewood won the Metro Tournament, which it hosted. The Patriots beat Woodlawn 48-38, Spain Park 49-28 and Oak Mountain 40-36 in double overtime in the championship game.
The 6-foot-5 Padgett is having a strong season. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 14 points per game. He also averages 6 rebounds. He has committed to play college basketball at Samford, where his dad, Scott Padgett, is the head coach.
“He’s playing well,” Shepler said. “He’s more physical and he’s matured. He’s taking the ball down in the post and he handles the ball more, which helps give us another dimension.”
Senior wing Jack Dorough is another solid player and one of the team captains along with Padgett and Williams.
Sophomore guard Bo Barber has been steady. He’s the younger brother of Hannah Barber, who starred on the Homewood girls team and is now a freshman at Alabama. Bo Barber is the Patriots’ second-leading scorer at 9.2 points per game, and he made a 3-pointer at the buzzer in a 41-40 victory against Spain Park on Jan. 4.
“He’s a tough, gritty player and he’s extremely skilled,” Shepler said.
Junior guard Marcello Nanni has gained a reputation for taking charge, and freshman guard P.J. Davis has been a pleasant surprise.
“He was at Homewood then he left for a year, although he still lived in Homewood,” Shepler said of Davis. “He’s done a lot for us. He’s very athletic.”
Padgett’s younger brother Lucas, a 6-foot-2 sophomore center, also is on the team.
“They were going to put him on the JV at first but decided to put him on the varsity,” Logan Padgett said. “What it has meant to both of us being on the team together is special.”
The Patriots (20-6) entered this week with only four regular season games remaining before the start of the Class 6A, Area 10 tournament. Huffman will host the area tournament because it beat Homewood twice, including a 50-49 overtime decision last Friday.
Shepler believes his team will be a contender in the postseason, but he said it will be a challenge to reach the state tournament.
“I think we are capable of making a deep run,” he said. “But the Northeast Region is loaded with several ranked teams such as Pinson, Lee-Huntsville, Mae Jemison, Columbia, Buckhorn and us and some other good teams – Huffman, Albertville and Oxford. So it will be tough to come out of there.”