The O’Fallon basketball Panthers have opened the 2016-17 hardwood season with a somewhat surprising 5-2 record. With first-year varsity coach Brian Muniz at the helm and depending on a relatively inexperienced and under-sized group, the OTHS squad was categorized as in “rebuilding mode” by most local cage prognosticators. Playing a scrappy brand of basketball, the O’Fallon squad won three of four games in the Highland tournament and have notched Southwestern Conference victories over Collinsville and Granite City.
Winning, to this point in the season, has been a team effort for the Panthers with several players making solid contributions to the squad’s success. Junior Jalen Hodge — this week’s top athlete — is one of the players on which Coach Muniz has come to depend — both offensively and defensively.
“Jalen has worked hard to improve his game on both sides of the court,” Muniz said. “His is also a lot stronger than last year. Through the first several weeks of the season, he has been a catalyst for our offense. He has made some shots early in games that has helped get our offense going. Jalen is great teammate. He cares more about the team rather than individual accomplishments.”
Although characterized by his coach as a team player, the O’Fallon junior, the son of Lisa Hodge, has made a consistent individual impact on the court, currently averaging 15 points per game. In O’Fallon’s most recent 84-37 drubbing of Granite City, Hodge poured in 20 points and doled out four assists.
“I play basketball because it has been a big part of my life since I was young,” Hodge said. “I began at 3 years old, when my mom always put a ball in my hands. My work ethic has allowed me to play to the best of my ability.
“Playing basketball has taught me to always give my best effort on a day-to-day basis,” added the OTHS junior hoopster. “It has given me a positive attitude in all aspects of my daily life.”