COLUMBIA — Hickman boys basketball coach David Johnson started to see the makings of a strong team over the summer.
Johnson took the Kewpies, who ended the previous season with a loss in the district finals to rival Rock Bridge, to summer camps in Arkansas and Georgia to play against some of the best basketball talent those states had to offer.
Rock Bridge boys vs. East Kansas City, 4 p.m. Friday at Central Kansas City High School
Hickman girls vs. Moberly, 6 p.m. Friday at Columbia College (Norm Stewart Classic)
Hickman boys vs. Westminster, 7 p.m. Friday at Troy Buchanan High School
Hickman boys vs. Waynesville, 5 p.m. Saturday at Columbia College (Norm Stewart Classic)
Rock Bridge boys vs. CBC, 8 p.m. Saturday at Columbia College (Norm Stewart Classic)
Rock Bridge girls vs. Blue Springs, 2:30 p.m. at Columbia College (Norm Stewart Classic)
Johnson's team didn't disappoint, knocking off Arkansas' top-ranked team and coming within a game of the finals in the tournament in Georgia.
"They came in ready to work," Johnson said. "There was no pulling teeth."
The Kewpies lost four seniors from last season's team, including a pair of starters. But two returning players, sophomore guard Jimmy Whitt and junior guard Chris Clark, are used to carrying the load, having been leaders on offense a year ago.
"As an upperclassman now, I feel like I need to step up and be an even bigger leader," Clark said. "We have some younger guys ready to step up, too."
Hickman has not wasted any time parlaying the hard work in the summer months into regular season success. The Kewpies have won back-to-back games to start the season, beating Francis-Howell and Fort Zumwalt South, both by convincing margins.
"It feels good to get off to a fast start," Whitt said. "We didn't really do that last year, so it builds our confidence."
Hickman will play Westminster in the finals of the Peoples Bank Basketball Invitational on Friday night at Troy Buchanan High School. The Kewpies are set to play against Waynesville on Saturday in the Norm Stewart Classic at Columbia College, marking the team's fourth game in six days.
The schedule doesn't slow down, either. Hickman travels to Blue Springs to play in another tournament next week. The early season schedule is a grind, but Johnson wouldn't have it any other way.
"They got tired of listening to me," Johnson said. "They're tired of slapping each other around in practice. They wanted some fresh meat."
Johnson also said the strength of the opponents in the early part of the season will be a strong indicator of where his team is and where it needs to be.
While the Kewpies' are focused on Friday night's matchup, the players are eager to return home for the annual Norm Stewart Classic.
"It's a chance for us to showcase our talent," Clark said.