FLORISSANT • Brandon Gilmore couldn't find sleep Monday night.
The first-year coach of the Hazelwood Central boys basketball team, Gilmore was a bundle of energy the night before the Hawks home opener.
Central retired one-time star Demetrius Alexander's No. 52 jersey. There was a DJ in the gym mixing music that had the Central students dancing in the aisles. The opponent, Whitfield, brought Torrence Watson, who's among the highest-rated prospects in the state.
“I was excited, I had to calm myself down. I couldn't sleep last night,” Gilmore said. “I had to manage my emotions, but it was good. I'm cool now. I had to get through it.”
He got through it, and so did his Hawks despite standout Shaun Williams sitting the whole second quarter in foul trouble.
Central's depth was evident Tuesday as it beat Whitfield 74-62.
The No. 4 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, Central (4-0) had five players hit double figures. The Hawks raced to a 9-0 lead and never let Whitfield within six points the rest of the night.
“It was our first home game so we wanted to come out with a lot of energy,” senior forward Cameron Williams said.
Williams had 15 points and three rebounds. Senior post Xavier Ball had 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Senior forward Maurice Hayes had 13 points. Senior guard Telly Wright had 12 points.
Shaun Williams finished with 15 points, 10 of which came in the second half. The Kansas State recruit also had five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block despite sitting after he picked up his second foul with a minute to go in the first quarter.
“I trust all my guys, they share the ball. We're versatile. They picked it up. When their brother goes down they have to step up and play,” Gilmore said. “Everybody knows their roles on this team and at different times their roles will be different, but you have to step up when it happens.”
The No. 4 small school, Whitfield (3-2) never recovered after the Hawks jumped on them in the first quarter. Shaun Williams buried a 3-pointer after Central won the jump ball. Hayes hit a runner and then Cameron Williams threw down an alley-oop from Wright. Shaun Williams dropped in a driving layup to make it 9-0 two minutes in before Whitfield called a time out.
“Their role players really stepped up big for them tonight. They did a lot of things well for them which made it more difficult for us to get stops,” Whitfield coach Mike Potsou said. “They were flying around for offensive boards, they were posting hard and willing to pass out of the double (team) well and find guys that were open. A lot of credit to them for their spacing and their ability to share the basketball.”
Whitfield junior forward Luther Taylor put the Warriors on the board with a layup with 5 minutes and 38 seconds to play in the first. Taylor had a strong night with 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. No one else had more than three boards for the Warriors.
Watson finished with 31 points, three rebounds and four assists. A Mizzou recruit, Watson found junior guard Aurelio Stucco for several open 3-pointers that Stucco buried. Stucco finished with 15 points, all of which came from long distance.
The Warriors whittled the lead to six on a Stucco 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play in the first half. The Hawks attacked the rack at the other end but couldn't convert. The ball came loose and found Ball outside the 3-point line. The 6-foot-7 senior forward rose up and buried the long-range shot just before time expired to give the Hawks a 37-28 lead at halftime.
Potsou said a lot of what ailed Whitfield was directly related to Central. Long, rangy and athletic, the Hawks made life miserable for the Warriors. They poked the ball away on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter for easy run outs.
Shaun Williams had three monster dunks, one in traffic, that had the gym rocking in the third quarter.
“They're about 6-foot-3 and bigger across the board and they're pretty athletic so that's going to disrupt some things for us,” Potsou said. “I was really proud of the way we competed today.”
There was plenty for Gilmore to be proud of. The Hawks competed at a high level, beat a good opponent and honored one of their all-time greats. Alexander graduated in 1994 after one of the more storied careers at Central. He had more than 1,000 points and 900 rebounds in his two years on the varsity. He led the Hawks to a runner up finish in 4A in 1994 then went on to play at the University of Alabama.
“I'm glad we did that for Stick,” Gilmore said. “I used to come watch him as a kid. I wanted to honor some alumni and he's the best to play here.”
Central has high expectations this winter. Tuesday was the first of what can be a season full of special nights.
“It's very exciting,” Cameron Williams said. “We understand we can make a deep run if we all buy in and stick to the game plan.”