HOWELL — Like their counterparts in girls basketball, members of the Hartland and Howell boys basketball teams know each other well, as players and people.
“These are kids who have grown up together and played a lot together,” Hartland coach Kevin Blouin said Sunday. “They know a lot about each other.”
Like the girls, Hartland and Howell’s boys will play for a third time this season tonight, when they begin Division 1 district play at Howell High School in a game that will be broadcast on The LIvingston Post. Click here for a link.
Unlike Friday’s girls game, which was played at a neutral site in Holly, tonight’s contest will be played in Howell’s gym before expected large crowd.
It’s the seventh home game in a row for the Highlanders due to a quirk in the KLAA schedule.
“I think there’s definitely a comfort level to being at home, which I think is an advantage,” Howell coach Nick Simon said. “I think once the ball is tipped, some of that stuff goes out the window. I think you’re a little less nervous during warmups because you’re at home, but once the sweat starts flowing, all that stuff goes out the window.”
The Eagles are 13-7, while Howell is at 16-4, the best regular-season mark under Simon, including last year’s team, which went to the Division 1 semifinals at the Breslin Center.
It’s the first night of the new season, as it were, and Simon said a good start is paramount.
“Especially on the defensive end,” he added. “I feel a lot more comfortable in a game where we’re up 5-2 or so toward the end of the first quarter than if it were a 19-18 battle. We have to make sure we’re locked in and ready defensively, first.”
Blouin, for his part, says his team will need to be on as even a keel as one expects in a game where the loser’s season is over.
“I think it’s just keeping our composure,” he said. “It’s going to be a really loud environment, and these guys know that. The thing is not letting the environment affect the way we play.”
Bobby Samples and Tony Honkala will lead the Highlanders, as they usually do, while Hartland will rely both on Kyle Hamlin, a junior and a cadre of seniors that includes Trevor Lewis and Chase Ekonen.
“We have a good senior group,” Blouin said. “We’re going to be leaning on our seniors when things get a little tough (tonight), because we know they will sometimes. We’re just looking for a good team effort and relying on our seniors.”
Neither team has played since the regular season ended on Tuesday, a stark contrast to nt long ago, when conference seasons ended on a Friday and the tournament began the next Monday.
“I like it,” Simon said of the new format. “it gives us time to practice, put some stuff in, let it settle in, and it also gives us time on Friday for a team bonding thing we do every year. It lets you enjoy the moment and the process leading up to it, and get comfortable knowing your next game is a do-or-die kind of thing. I enjoyed it and I think our kids enjoyed it as well.”
The winner will play Fenton in the first game of a district semifinal doubleheader on Wednesday. Blouin and his Eagles are worried about getting a win Monday before considering a possible match with the Tigers.
“This is a tough place to play,” Blouin said after a shootaround at Howell High School on Sunday. “They don’t give up many losses in this gym.”