Dickson Basketball has high expectations as Palesano's game evolves and young Comets emerge
DICKSON — The game plan was simple when the shot clock wound down during the beginning of Dickson’s 2017-18 basketball season,
Get out of the way and let Hunter Palesano go to work.
Palesano, a player with AAU pedigree and the Comets leading scorer since his sophomore season, would isolate at the top of the key — testing his defender's ankles — before snatching back for a pull-up jumper or attacking the rim.
Despite opposing teams waiting to send help and double teams, the exhausted junior leader would often score.
But as the Comets developed last year, with its sole senior on the team learning the ropes of organized basketball and their youngest, Dickson’s 14-year-old eighth grader Charvis Wright learning how green his light really was, Dickson and Palesano began to change.
Midway through the season, Palesano became a leading distributor, with possessions ending on corner three’s and open layups as the junior drove and dished.
Palesano, often facing double teams and most of the burden to score said he was glad to change his game.
During the Tishomingo Invitational, Dickson scored five points in four seconds to stun Madill 47-46 for the consolation title. The run started on a drive-by Palesano and a cross-court dish to Charvis Wright who drained a deep three-pointer to draw within one point before Kanyon Gaines got the steal and free-throws to pull ahead.
“We had a young team, and the only senior we had hadn’t played basketball in years,” Palesano said. “[Becoming more of a distributor] made it better for me and better for everyone else. It made us better.”
It was a sacrifice Palesano said he was glad to make and one that cemented his role as a leader, despite often having other teammates eclipse his scoring totals.
“Yeah, I got respect, they started trusting me more,” Palesano said. “At first they were like ‘oh Hunter’s a ball hog, he won’t give up the ball’ and I was like ‘wait for it, wait for it,’ They started making shots and I said ‘here, take it, I’m tired, let's go win this game.’ I just had to trust them, and hopefully, they trust and respect me for that.”
Though his scoring averages dropped from the low 20s down to 15 points per game, Palesano has learned to cherish the assist.
The feeling and anticipation of finding an open teammate after creating space for them to shoot is nearly as gratifying as hitting a three-pointer himself, he said.
Palesano averaged over four assists and six rebounds at the end of his junior season.But despite the selflessness, Palesano’s game still has plenty of sauce.
No look passes are a staple of his game. It took some getting used to, Palesano said, but the Comets learned to expect the ball no matter what.
“I just like to be fancy with it, you don’t have to show off with a shot, you can show off with a pass,” Palesano said.
On the surface, Dickson’s record might not indicate the fruits of the change.
Before winning its Regional opener by a 17-point margin, the Comets finished the season with a 6-18 record. The Comets’ second-round loss to Valiant at the Regional tournament in Washington ended the 2017-18 season.
But, in Dickson basketball coach Billy Haley’s eyes, the change was a long-term investment.
And at the Sulphur Basketball camp on Wednesday, Haley said he’s started to see some of the dividends — as young talent matures and Palesano’s game evolves.
“Everybody is getting better,” Haley said. “We’re athletic and our young guys are getting experienced. We’re young, but I’m excited about this team and its future. We’ve got everybody back except for one, and two of our better players are 14 years old.”
Charvis Wright, who became a cold-blooded deep threat after many a no-look pass, is expected to continue his development as a scorer.
“Charvis is like my brother,” Palesano said. “He stepped up — I love seeing young guys do that. As a freshman, I didn’t have that role, there were so many seniors. But he stepped up and he’ll be big for us again.”
And this season, Wright will be joined by fellow 14-year-old freshman Johnny Smith, who Haley said — like Wright and Palesano — has college basketball potential.
Smith, 14, said he just wants to find a place to contribute, entering his first season of high school basketball.
“I’m just trying to keep up and find my place,” Smith said. “Whether it be on defense or offense, I just want to contribute.”
One of Dickson’s best on-ball defenders and scorers, Junior guard Kanyon Gaines will be back and Haley said junior Cason Dollar is expected to take a big step in his production after his development this summer.
And unlike last season, with Caelen Young as Dickson’s only senior on the roster, the Comets will return plenty of senior leadership. In addition to Palesano, JD Braxton and Bransen Kent are entering the final campaign of their Dickson basketball careers.
For Palesano, this summer has been night and day compared to last year, with talent and trust emerging and growing into something exciting since the last Sulphur Basketball Camp.
On the heels of a Regionals win and the team's growth, Palesano said he wants more.
“We want it all, I want it all,” Palesano said. “We gotta work for it, but I want to win some games for sure, win some tournaments and go as far as we can and make a run for State. Anything a high schooler could really want.”