By Hill City High School boys’ basketball standards, an 11-11 campaign and semifinal exit in the Class 2A Plainville sub-state was sub-par.
In 40-plus seasons at the helm for the Ringnecks, coach Keith Riley has long made a habit of putting together a winning program, despite any obstacles. As is the case in recent years, Riley has been able to produce a winner despite low numbers and limited floor talent. Often times in the past few years, Hill City only has played eight, seven or even six players deep on the bench.
A .500 record in 2016-17, though, wasn’t for a lack of effort by Zech Wilson, one of the most unique players Riley has coached in more than four decades.
All Wilson did was average 20 points and 13 rebounds per game for Hill City. He only scored in single digits once in 22 games, scored north of 30 three times and pulled down 17 double-doubles.
That might not seem all that astonishing for a team’s star player.
That is until you consider the fact that Wilson was the Ringnecks’ 5-foot-10 starting point guard, who averaged more than five assists a game as well.
For his efforts, he was named the top player on the HDN All-Area basketball team.
“He’s a great talent, but even better than that, he’s a better kid,” Riley said during an interview early in the season.
Often too unselfish a player, Riley said he had to coax Wilson to shoot more, pointing out that’s what had to happen if the Ringnecks were going to have any kind of success.
It was a different look for Wilson in his final campaign.
Last year, he played a secondary role to Claiborne Kyles, who transferred to Hays High School.
“Every year I’ve had in high school, it’s been a different role for me,” Wilson said in January. “This is the role I have this year, so this is what I have to do.”
Unselfish play and ability to crash the boards — and an improved shooting touch — led to a Russell Westbrook-esque stat line. Riley called Wilson the best rebounding guard he’s ever coached.
“I go out there and play,” Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m not going for numbers really. I could (not) care less.
“I could have zero points at the end of the game, as long as we win. That’s all that matters to me.”
The wins, though, were hard to come by for the Ringnecks. But Wilson’s 51-percent field goal shooting and unique ability gave teams fits the whole way.
“I would take him in a minute, and I told him that last year,” TMP-Marian coach Joe Hertel said after the Monarchs faced Hill City twice early in the season. “He’s a kid that makes four other guys look way better than they are.”
Wilson’s play also led him to be the top vote-getter in the Mid-Continent League. He also got nearly two steals and a blocked shot per game. He fell one assist shy of a triple-double early in the year, and three more times recorded seven assists.