The end of one chapter gives way to the start of another, and such is the case as teams around the state begin preparations for the 2022-23 school year.
For many, that’ll mean making the move to a new district. Schools like Allen, Prosper, Little Elm, McKinney Boyd and McKinney, however, will share the same district for at least two more years.
The UIL's biennial realignment dealt those five high schools a similar district make-up, again slotted into 5-6A alongside Denton Guyer and Denton Braswell while also welcoming upstart Prosper Rock Hill to Class 6A.
Throughout the summer, Star Local Media will reflect on the year that was for 5-6A’s seven schools while also looking ahead to what lies in store for 2022-23.
1. Who is the preliminary favorite for 5-6A boys basketball?
Matt Welch: Last season featured one of the area's more compelling district title races as state-ranked McKinney and Denton Guyer battled to a split atop the 5-6A standings.
Both teams graduated their share of talent, but the Wildcats still return a nucleus that should ensure it remains in contention. Guyer will sport one of the more promising backcourts in the state next season, headlined by the 5-6A co-newcomers of the year Jeremiah Green, ESPN's No. 12-ranked prospect for the 2025 class, and Jordan Lowery, as well as sharpshooter and all-district first-teamer Connor Newton.
Guyer has questions to answer up front with district MVP KyeRon Lindsay now plying his craft at Georgia, but the Wildcats' guard play will be a handful for anyone in 5-6A.
McKinney, meanwhile, is projected to return only one starter from its state runner-up squad in point guard Jacovey Campbell after graduating three starters and another, Star Local Media all-area MVP Ja'Kobe Walter, transferring to Link Academy in Missouri.
That means there's a wealth of production to go around for players stepping into larger roles after contributing off the bench last year, but history says the Lions should field a competitive squad — McKinney has made the playoffs eight of the past nine seasons.
Keep an eye on Allen as well. The Eagles graduated the heartbeat of their 2021-22 squad in 5-6A defensive player of the year Miles Gibson, but a full offseason under second-year head coach Clark Cipoletta, plus an impressive cast of returners that helped push nationally ranked Richardson to the brink in the area round of last year's playoffs, could spark a big season for Allen.
2. Who is the preliminary favorite for 5-6A girls basketball?
David Wolman: Separated by seven miles, Denton Braswell and Little Elm had quite the runs last season, on their way to finishing in first place and second place in District 5-6A, respectively. The Lady Bengals, led by LSU signee Alisa Williams, made their first-ever appearance in a regional final, while the Lady Lobos caught fire down the stretch to earn the conference's second seed.
Although Braswell's 35-3 run to an undefeated mark in district play and four playoff wins in just its sixth season as a program was one that the Lady Bengals won't soon forget, the loss of Williams to graduation might be too much for the Lady Bengals to overcome. That's why I have Little Elm penciled in as the early favorite to win the district title.
With six returners that played significant varsity minutes last season, the amount of experience that the Lady Lobos have returning this season should stack up well against the remainder of the field.
Headlining the list of returners is senior guard Amarachi Kimpson, a UNLV commit who captured district MVP honors as a junior after averaging 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.0 assists per game. Her sister, Shiloh, as well as fellow sophomore guard Raniyah Hunt provided great secondary scoring for Little Elm their freshman seasons. Junior guards Kaili Schmidt and Madison Martin, as well as senior forward Aubrey Metzger also played crucial roles in Little Elm's hot finish to the regular season this past winter.
3. Which players could factor into the MVP races in 5-6A boys and girls basketball?
David Wolman: Before Baylor pledge Ja'Kobe Walter transferred from McKinney to Link Academy on May 5, he was one of my top choices to win district MVP. Tabbed as the nation's No. 17-ranked prospect, according to ESPN, Walter helped to lead the Lions to the state tournament this past season for the first time in 94 years as McKinney finished as the Class 6A state runner-up.
Even if Walter was still at McKinney, others players in the district would still be up for consideration for 5-6A MVP.
Guyer won the 5-6A title last season and current Georgia freshman Lindsay captured the district's top individual honor. While Lindsay was helping the Wildcats to first place in the standings, two freshmen emerged as stars. That being Green and Lowery, who were selected as the co-newcomer of the year last season.
I really like what Prosper junior Jaxson Ford brings to the table. He helped to lead the Eagles to a ninth consecutive playoff appearances last season. Also keep your eyes on Allen senior Femi Olaniyan, who cracked the all-district first team as a junior.
On the girls' side, Kimpson has earned a district superlative in each of her first three seasons with Little Elm. Don't expect that to change that this season. There is a good chance that she could repeat as 5-6A MVP.
Kimpson has competition. Allen senior Alexis Cortez and McKinney junior Sam Tillson will likely receive votes during the coaches' meeting next spring . Cortez elevated to the Lady Eagles' go-to scorer during her junior year and was named 5-6A offensive player of the year as a result. Tillson led the Lionettes in scoring at 14.7 points per game and added 9.8 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 0.6 assists.
4. Who are a couple potential breakout candidates on the football field in 5-6A?
Matt Welch: McKinney has its sights set on a bounce-back year, and a big reason why will be the potential of its offense.
But whereas all eyes will be on the star-studded backfield of quarterback Keldric Luster, a transfer from Frisco Liberty who was named Star Local Media all-area offensive player of the year in 2021, and running back Bryan Jackson, one of the nation's top recruits at the position, there's an abundance of opportunity out wide for a player like Dylan Rhodes to thrive in the Lions' high-powered offense.
Rhodes cracked the 5-6A all-district third team as a junior after logging 37 receptions and 353 yards and two touchdowns, but the dynamics of the McKinney passing attack has changed since then, even beyond the quarterback position. The team's leading receiver, Xavier Filsaime, is expected to be used more in the secondary this fall, and Messiah Washington transferred back to Allen, where he played as a freshman.
That puts the onus on Rhodes to lead the receiving corps this fall, and with Luster at the controls behind center, there should be plenty of chances for Rhodes to emerge as one of the better pass-catchers in 5-6A.
David Wolman: The last name Umeozulu has become synonymous with the Allen football team. Neto was a four-star recruit and offensive lineman who is currently a freshman for the Texas Longhorns. His younger brother, Zina, a junior defensive end, was named the district's newcomer of the year after he recorded eight sacks, eight quarterback pressures and 46 tackles last season.
Zina is a star in the making and will help Allen to overcome the transfer of five-star defensive end D.J. Hicks, who is now at Katy Paetow.