REGIONAL PREVIEW: Johnson, Hill become ball handlers Eels were searching for

Friday, March 8, 2024
After seeing multiple senior ball handlers graduate from last season's 17-win team, Clay City looked to Dalton Hill (pictured) and Wyatt Johnson to fill the void.
Morgan Mershon photo

Over the last couple of boys high school basketball seasons, Clay City has leaned heavily upon its depth.

That included multiple senior ball-handling guards that left the program after last year’s 17-win campaign, leaving a gaping hole that head coach Chris Ames was, frankly, nervous about filling.

The sixth-year head coach didn’t like what he was seeing from his group of guards during the summer months, noting the Eels were ‘throwing the ball all over the gym.’ That continued into the fall as well. But once the season officially got started at the end of November, Clay City identified the pair of point guards it wanted to run its offense, and junior Wyatt Johnson and sophomore Dalton Hill have gotten better as the year progressed, seeing their assists go up and their turnovers go down all while the speed of the offense has increased.

“Ball handling was a really big concern. Even through the fall, it wasn’t very good,” Ames said. “Dalton and Wyatt have done a tremendous job of trying to get better. I will be honest that it’s nice having two guys that are similar in a sense that you can do very similar things regardless of who’s on the court. You can bring one in for the other to get a rest or if one’s not having a great two or three minutes, you know you have the backup ready to go in your back pocket. Both of those guys have grown tremendously. Their turnovers from the beginning of the season until the end has gone down. Looking at our stats, we’re now 10 or under per game while also trying to be a little more up tempo with this group than we have in the past.”

Both Johnson and Hill quickly figured out the best way for them to help the Eels at their position – taking care of the basketball and setting up their teammates to score.

And while they each have similar mindsets and skill sets on the court, they also have differing roles with Johnson being a starter and Hill coming off the bench. Johnson wants to set the tone from the get-go while Hill looks to provide his team with energy as a spark plug that does a little trash talking when it’s necessary.

“We’ve really focused on taking care of the ball,” said Johnson. “We know we have scorers. We don’t have to be the main ones to do that because we have guys that do that, so that means our main job is to take care of the ball and control the pace of the game.”

“I just want to get my teammates the ball and set them up to get them good shots or to help them draw fouls against their defenders,” said Hill. “I want to be the one out there talking at all times. And if a good play happens for us, I’m the one coming up to the team and hyping them up. If the other team starts to talk trash, I also want to be one of the ones that talks a little back.”

What’s made the Johnson-Hill partnership so unique this season has been their working relationship during games and practices.

They both entered the preseason portion of the year in search of locking down the lead-guard role. But what’s transpired since is a duo that works well alongside each other despite them fighting for the same minutes.

There’s no jealousy when the other’s on the floor. Instead, it’s a lot of standing up and cheering. And whenever the pair are on the bench together at the same time, which isn’t very often, they’re dissecting the game alongside the other to help do what they love to do most – win.

“We never looked at it as a battle for a spot. We both knew that whenever one of us is off the court, the other one has to step up,” said Johnson. “We look at it more through a teamwork way.”

“These guys are genuinely rooting for each other, and you can see it. They are fighting for the same minutes, and in our world and our society, when someone is trying to get the same thing that you want, it’s not always popular but these guys have been tremendous,” said Ames. “I don’t know how to describe their relationship, but it’s humbling because I know they want to win, and I know they want the other to play well. They deserve a lot of credit. It means a lot to their teammates and their coaching staff.”

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