High School Basketball

Hungry for an outright district title, Panthers off to 9-1 start

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 1/6/21

Paetow was not too thrilled to share the District 19-5A boys basketball championship with A&M Consolidated last season.

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High School Basketball

Hungry for an outright district title, Panthers off to 9-1 start

Posted

Paetow was not too thrilled to share the District 19-5A boys basketball championship with A&M Consolidated last season.

So, in the first of two meetings between the two blossoming rivals on Tuesday, the Panthers made sure to make it known who is king of the league.

Paetow dominated the Tigers in a 65-41 blowout at home, improving to 9-1 overall and 4-0 in district play in a game that was heated and consisted of multiple technical fouls.

“We don’t want to tie again,” said junior guard Trevor Frank, who had a game-high 19 points. “That’s the thing. Our drive is to sweep this district and keep progressing. Win district outright and get far in the playoffs.”

Even through adversity dealt by COVID-19, the Panthers are rolling. Head coach Michael Niemi missed his fourth straight game as he is absent dealing with protocols because of the virus. Lead assistant Chuck Arnold, formerly a coach at Katy High who has been Niemi’s top guy since they arrived on campus prior to last season, has taken the reins.

The team has not skipped a beat.

“Coach Niemi runs a solid program,” Arnold said. “I’m just trying to do my job as an assistant, doing things exactly the way he would do them. It’s all because of the program he’s built.

“This is a group that competes at a high standard. They get after each other and hold each other accountable. I don’t think it matters who coaches them.”

Paetow graduated a decent number of seniors, but players who were wide-eyed first-year varsity sophomores last year like Frank and post Charles Chukwu have grown as leaders. The Panthers are still full of speed and athleticism, but they are more mature and bigger, thanks to the addition of 6-foot-4 senior transfer Everett Marlatt and 6-foot-3 freshman wing Ade Onaleye.

Against A&M Consolidated, which turned the ball over 22 times against that Paetow quickness, three Panthers scored in double figures (Frank, Chukwu with 14 and 10 rebounds, and senior guard Jayden McCullough with 11 points and three steals) and another was on the verge (senior guard Brian McKnight had nine points).

“We’re trying to still get that chemistry back,” McKnight said. “We lost a lot of seniors, we’ve got some new guys, but we’re coming together. We have a lot of talent on this team, and it’s really up to us how good we can be. We just have to mold it all together.”

Frank and Chukwu are the difference-makers. Frank is a dead-eye shooter whose defensive activity is contagious. The 6-8 Chukwu is an irrepressible force near the rim, an improved passer and initiator of the offense who throws down dunks with ease and is confident showing a midrange jumper.

But for a defense to focus strictly on them would be foolish. The Panthers go nine-deep into their rotation, and the speed at which they play on both ends of the floor can be overwhelming for opponents.

“We don’t want to get complacent,” Chukwu said. “We want to sustain this winning culture and keep it going.”

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