The Hollis boys basketball team will be making its first appearance at the state tournament since 2000.
But a Larry Taylor-coached Hollis boys team will be making its seventh straight trip, facing Pond Creek-Hunter in Thursday’s first round at 8:30 p.m. in Yukon.
Taylor became the Hollis coach in 1985, stepping down after taking the Tigers to six consecutive state tournaments from 1995-2000. His teams reached the finals in 1992 and 1997, and won it all in 1998.
Last year, Taylor had been watching the Tigers from afar, still passionate about the program. But he was busy teaching chemistry at a school in Texas. Former coach Brent Cummins had talked strategy with Taylor and asked for his advice a few times throughout the season.
“One of those nights, I came home, and my wife said, ‘I see that fire in your eyes again,’” Taylor said. “I’m 64 years old. Any kind of fire in my eyes is a good thing.”
When Cummins left after the season, Hollis administrators called Taylor, and he took the job.
“My wife said I needed a sanity check,” Taylor said. “But I was excited to get the chance to come back.”
This wasn’t Taylor’s first time stepping in to fill a void for these players at Hollis — though the first time was much different.
When the current seniors were sixth-graders, their science teacher died in the middle of the school year, and Taylor took over the class. That’s when players such as Tyler Bess and T.J. Walker got their first interaction with Taylor.
“Knowing him from then has been good for us,” Walker said. “We knew his sense of humor and how he was when he was serious.
“And I’ve gone to church with him for a couple years, so I’ve gotten to know him pretty good.”
Hollis’ basketball season got a late start after the football team won the school’s first state title on Dec. 19.
“I got them in the gym for a couple practices after Christmas, and we had one more practice before we played our first game on Jan. 6,” Taylor said. “We played five games that week with just three practices.”
But jumping into basketball quickly helped the football players carry over the momentum from the title run.
“I feel like we were able to keep the intensity up going into basketball season,” Walker said. “We kept the dedication and hard work from the field and took it into the gym.”
And Taylor has been able to push this team because of its drive to win.
“Winning breeds winning,” he said. “These kids, it’s not that they hope to win — they expect to win. When you play with that kind of confidence, whether it’s tiddlywinks or basketball or football, you’re going to have success. And these kids have that.”