Washington High’s first-year coach, Trent Hilliard, knows a little bit about high school basketball at its highest level. He’s played it, seen it and coached it.
Hilliard played point guard at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the early 80s with Charles Smith, a McDonald’s All-American who went on to play college ball at Pittsburgh and was later a third overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1988 NBA draft.
Smith, who stood 6-foot-10, could have cast a big shadow on the rest of the Harding’s basketball team, but Hilliard remembers how his coach, Charles Bentley, handled the team, and more importantly, how Smith reacted to reacted to what had to have been a lot of attention.
“Coach Bentley, he was everything to me,” Hilliard said. “He was always there for me, making sure not necessarily that I had all the things I wanted but that I had all the things I needed to migrate, not only from high school, but life in general. His style was that he was going to love on you, but he was also going to be tough. Watching him interact with Charles Smith and with Charles being receptive to his way of doing things, was big for me.”
Charles [Smith] went about his business being a basketball player, and made sure that his teammates, us, we were successful. It wasn’t just about him.”
While coaching at Wilby High School (2006-12) in Waterbury, Connecticut, Hilliard spotted a sophomore with a lot of potential, Walter Wright, and helped guide him to a full scholarship at Montana University. In many ways, Hilliard was paying forward a favor done for him by Bentley decades earlier.
By the end of his senior year at Montana in 2017, Wright had become an important player for the Grizzlies. He started in 40 games over his last two seasons, averaged over 10 points a game and was either first or second on the team in points, assists and steals. He talked about how Hilliard helped him develop as a player and a person.
“Trent really grabbed me,” said Wright. “He got ahold of me and started working out with me after school every day.
“That was the turning point for me, and I started taking basketball seriously,” said Wright.
“Trent had been through a lot,” said Wright. “So it was easy to talk to him. I was without a father figure when I was young. I didn’t really have a father because he was in and out of jail.
“But once I was able to understand that Trent Hilliard had gone through the same stuff – but who had made himself into a guy who had high values and was very successful – I respected him from day one.
“Because,” said Wright. “Trent always gave me the utmost respect.”
Growing up in Connecticut, Hilliard has seen outrageously successful basketball teams and the buzz they create in the community and he wants all of that for Washington High School.
That’s not to say that he expects it to happen overnight.
“If we want the community to come and support us, we’re going to have to show the community that we’re worth supporting,” Hilliard said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to go undefeated every year. They want to see a product where the guys are competing at a high level, where they love the game and play the right way. And if you do that, we will win and they will support us.”
Hilliard pointed out that while hustling and playing with intensity will endear his team to the home crowd, it will also lead to more wins.
“You can’t manufacture effort,” Hilliard said. “You have to make an effort to display that intensity consistently. We talk about it in practice, not having lulls. We want to bring the best out in each player and in the team. We’re not going to restrict anyone’s talent or hold anyone back. We’re going to let the players grow within the system.”
The Patriots have a good deal of talent back this season.
Danny Moylan, a 6-foot-4 senior, has a nice shooting touch and has impressed Hilliard.
“He’s seen it all,” Hilliard said. “He’s been with the program for four years and I believe I am his third coach. He’s been through a lot and he’s ready. He’s a vocal leader for our team.”
Hilliard likes what he sees out of Liam Morris, a senior shooting guard.
“He’s been going hard at it in practice,” Hilliard said. “Liam’s a slasher and he’s strong once he gets into the lane.”
Hilliard said that both Moyland and Morris aren’t going to be satisfied with waiting around for success to come their way.
“These guys they see it for what it is,” Hilliard said. “We have a chance to get down the road. They can’t wait until February, it’s too late by then and they know it.”
Hilliard described Tre Jackson as a player with many options offensively.
“He’s a dual threat,” Hilliard said. “He’s a slasher who is strong once he gets in the lane and finishes strong.”
The team’s point guard, Jaylen Pooler, makes good decisions and can score.
“He picks and choses the right time to score,” Hilliard said. “He’s got great ball-handling skills. I just enjoy watching the guy. He plays at an even keel.”
From a defensive standpoint, Terence Jones serves as the team’s sparkplug.
“He’s a terrific defender,” Hilliard said. “He’s a high energy guy and a great on-ball defender.”
Jalyn Wright, at 6-4, 240 pounds, is a talent who’s been hindered early on by knee injuries, but once he gets into the swing of things, Hilliard is expecting big things. As it stands now, Wright will start out as the team’s sixth man and will at some point, start.
“He’s going to be teriffic,” Hilliard said. “He has good ballhandling skills. He can shoot it and play with his back to the basket. He’s pretty much unguardable.”
Davian Carr is a junior guard who has a high basketball IQ and offers the team a lot of versatility.
“He’s going to get you loose balls and rebounds, and also, he can put the ball in the bucket. His ability to get you off your feet with his ball fakes is uncanny. He’s our Swiss army knife guy.”
Toby Rehanek and Jaxon Bakken are two blue-collar guards who will no doubt give the Patriots tough minutes this year, according to Hilliard.
“I respect what they bring,” Hilliard said. “The energy that they bring and just the desire and the love the game — I love watching them at practice because when there’s a ball on the floor, 9 times out of 10, they’re going to get it.”
Rehanek, Hilliard said, is, “Gritty. He’s not a big guy, but he will step in to take a charge … I wish I had another year with him.”
Bakken, once he gets healthy, will also prove to be an asset, as Hilliard explained. “He’ll be out for a few weeks with broken bone in his foot. But he’s a really intense player who dives after loose balls and hustles.”
Noah Foulks, a sophomore, at 6-3, gives the Patriots a lot of valuable size.
“He’s going to help us out tremendously,” Hilliard said. “Down the road, I look for him to do big things.”
Adam Sharp, another sophomore with height at 6-foot-4, is a football player who at 250 pounds, can set bone-jarring screens.
“He’s very cerebral,” Hilliard said. “The way he sets screens — he gets himself into position on time and makes himself big. In practice, he’ll touch one of our guys and the next time we run a play near him, they’re looking for him.”
Taylor Bosley, a senior, is perhaps one of the best athletes on the team.
He hasn’t played high school basketball before this season but has a lot of speed, quickness and energy. In fact, so much that Hilliard feels there’s too much of it to keep on the bench.
“He’s a talent that we are working with desperately to get him to where he needs to be with the rest of the team,” Hilliard said. “He can definitely help us be successful. He’d be the six or seventh guy. We’re trying to harness all that energy.”