Hickman boys basketball coach stresses importance of rivalry game

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 10:49 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — David Johnson was a senior on the 1980 Hickman High School boys basketball team that was favored to play Rock Bridge High School in the district finals. But the Kewpies fell to Hannibal in the semifinals that season, coming up one game short of playing the Bruins.

So, Johnson, now Hickman's head coach, never got a chance to play in the rivalry that he calls "one of the best in the state of Missouri."

Johnson uses this to motivate his players. He says players who suit up for the Kewpies should look forward to representing their school against Rock Bridge.

"I never got to play them personally," Johnson said. "But I absolutely stress the importance of getting a chance to play in this tremendous rivalry to the team."

Since 1980, the Kewpies have had plenty of opportunities to play against the Bruins, but recently the rivalry has been more than a little one-sided. Hickman's 46-26 loss at Rock Bridge in December marked the Bruins' 19th-straight win over the Kewpies. The slide goes back to the 2004-05 season.

In Tuesday night's game, Hickman (8-7) will rely on its leading scorer, freshman Jimmy Whitt, who is averaging 13.8 points per game this season. 

"Jimmy is finding out just how physical high school basketball is and he is adjusting his game real well to it," Johnson said.

But a victory won't be easy. Rock Bridge, ranked No. 2 in the state by Missouri Sports Online, has built a 15-3 record, though the Bruins are coming off a 59-58 loss Saturday to Whitfield at the Gary Filbert Classic in Mexico, Mo.

Whitt said he is looking forward to playing Rock Bridge on Hickman's home court. 

“This is a huge game not only for the basketball team but for the entire school,” Whitt said. “Our fans are going to be with us this time, and we are all looking forward to getting hyped up, we have great fans.”

Although Johnson said he understands the importance that a win would mean for his team, he maintains that this is just another game on the Kewpies' schedule.

"This is a game that everyone gets excited about, the kids, faculty, administration, everybody," Johnson said. "However, it is just another game; the rivalry makes it even better, but it is still only one game."

The Kewpies play the Bruins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hickman.

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