Months before his senior season began, Pierce Spencer was ready.
The Nicholls State signee was coming off a junior campaign that saw him earn District 20-5A MVP and Montgomery County Player of the Year honors.
When Lake Creek opened the 2019-20 season with a win over Deer Park, Spencer proved he was ready with 35 points, seven steals, five assists and four rebounds.
“I think I knew in the summer, coming into the season, that he was going to be a beast and he was going to be tough for guys to deal with,” Pierce’s coach and father, Shannon Spencer, said. “I think that game he showed everybody how he was going to play this year.”
Spencer averaged 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.4 steals per game during his senior season. He shot 48 percent from the field. He scored 10 or more points in every game he played, had 14 double-doubles and had one triple-double. He repeated as District 20-5A MVP.
For his play and the elevation of those around him, paired with his leadership on a Lake Creek team that made it to the regional tournament — the first Montgomery County UIL boys team to do so since 2012 — Pierce Spencer is The Courier’s Player of the Year.
Spencer, a 6-foot-2 point guard, led Lake Creek in points, rebounds, assists, steals, minutes and a couple other statistical categories. After shouldering most of the load with a fresh roster during his junior campaign, he benefited from having more seasoned teammates this year.
“Pierce is really good at setting other guys up,” Shannon Spencer said. “Those guys benefited from him a lot. Adding Jordan Fitch to the roster this year, he was able to alleviate Pierce sometimes handling the ball, and maybe the opponents couldn’t put as much stock into guarding Pierce. They had to worry about Fitch and (Hudson) Boyd.”
Nearly every statistical category saw improvement for Spencer in 2019-20. One important jump for the often-fouled ballhandler was rising from 78 percent to 85 percent at the free-throw line.
“That was one of his big things he wanted to improve on coming into the year,” Shannon Spencer said. “I told him he needed to be 85 (percent) or above, and that’s exactly where he came in at. As a team, we shot 77 percent, which is phenomenal for a high school team.”
Just two years into its history, Lake Creek looks like a basketball school. Pierce Spencer has been a big part of making that a reality. He finished his prep career with more than 2,000 points scored.
“He’s been instrumental in leading our younger guys,” Shannon Spencer said. “Pierce had two years of playoff experience before he got to Lake Creek, and I think he knew what it took. Those younger guys let him lead the way, and he’s irreplaceable in the program.”
OFFENSIVE MVP: Bakari LaStrap, Sr., TWCA
At The Woodlands Christian Academy, the emphasis is on God first, teammates second and the individual last.
Bakari LaStrap entered the program as a sophomore, and the message grew on him over the next three years.
“Bakari bought into that, and it’s a struggle for every one of these players because we live in a social media era where everything’s about ‘Me,’” TWCA coach Tanner Field said. “We’re constantly trying to tear that down. These guys really bought into that, and Bakari bought into that more and more every year.”
In his senior season, LaStrap earned TAPPS all-state recognition for the third time as he helped lead the Warriors to their second title in three years. The point guard — who has not yet committed to a college, but is likely to go the junior college route, per Field — capped the championship win over Colleyville Covenant with a one-handed alley-oop after Luke Mansfield tossed a pass off the backboard in transition.
“We would always tell him the game will reward him if he thought outward and not inward,” Field said. “To see his last bucket be a pass off the glass from one of his best friends to basically seal a state championship win — you can’t write it any better than that.”
LaStrap averaged 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game in 2019-20. He also shot 52 percent from the field and, as the point guard, was tasked with getting a talented roster to gel.
In his junior season, Field said LaStrap faced more pressure, especially against strong opponents. The addition of sophomore Austin Benigni helped alleviate some of it, but with so much talent on the floor, LaStrap’s role as a distributor was important.
“Sometimes when you have a ton of talent on your team, that’s the biggest challenge — how do I get them going without keeping myself from getting going,” Field said. “Our message to the guys is always make the right play. If the right play is for you to pull up and shoot, then that’s the right play. If the right play is for you to make the next pass, then you’ve got to do it.”
Even with a sizable target on their backs, the Warriors finished the year with a 27-6 record and rolled through the playoffs on their way to the program’s sixth state title. LaStrap’s cool presence helped them get there.
“It’s a difficult place to play,” Field said. “We don’t just roll the ball out. We have high expectations. Having some senior leadership in that role, in the point guard position, definitely helped.”
DEFENSIVE MVP: Cole Himmer, Sr., The Woodlands
Each time The Woodlands took to the court, Cole Himmer knew he was in for challenging night.
The senior guard knew his role, and it was one matchup coach Dale Reed didn’t have to think about when he was creating game plans.
“Whoever the other team’s best player was, we knew from the get-go Cole was going to take that kid and everybody else would match up,” Reed said. “Cole’s tenacity and his drive to be a stopper was huge for us.”
Himmer’s 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game don’t jump off the page, but the role he signed up for wasn’t one that lit up the stat sheet. His job was to keep others off it.
“It’s really hard,” Reed said of the role. “To see a kid like Cole who’s such a hard worker and wants that challenge of stopping the other team’s best player is really impressive to me. We needed him to play so many minutes. It was hard to take him off the court, and when we did take him off the court, we’d give him a quick breather so he could last down the stretch. His tenacity was off the charts.”
One stat that Himmer did lead the team in was charges. He took 19 for the Highlanders.
“That stat is toughness and unselfishness,” Reed said. “It takes the courage to be able to stand in front of a guy who’s going full speed and blasts into you. When you do that, it’s such a huge momentum thing — their player is 1/5 out of the game because of the foul, it’s a turnover for them, and it’s a stop for us. Those kinds of plays are huge, and I don’t know if enough kids realize how big those plays are.”
Reed said the role Himmer played — which earned him the Defensive MVP superlative in District 15-6A as well — isn’t one that is a given each year. KeSean Carter played the role in recent years and was the District 12-6A Defensive MVP in 2018.
“You have to have the right player,” Reed said. “I would love to have that every year, and we talk to our guys about roles, and that’s always a role. If a kid can shut down the other team’s best player, that’s huge. Cole was huge for us in this role this year.”
Himmer will continue his basketball career at the University of St. Thomas.
“I’m really proud of him,” Reed said. “It was such a joy to coach him. He’s such a team guy and unselfish. I’m going to miss him definitely next year, but I’m very thankful that I was able to coach him.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Kamari Weatherspoon, Soph., Conroe
Kamari Weatherspoon moved into Conroe from Illinois last year.
The coaching staff decided it was best to keep the talented freshman at the sub-varsity level and get him acclimated to the program and its system.
Weatherspoon burst onto the scene as a sophomore. His versatility helped the Tigers and earned him the District 15-6A Newcomer of the Year superlative.
At 6-foot-2 and north of 230 pounds, Weatherspoon’s size helped him adjust to and succeed at the varsity level.
“Space is important when it comes to basketball, and he’s a guy that understands the game,” Conroe coach Daryl Mason said. “With his understanding of the game and with his size to create that natural space, it was definitely an asset for him and for us.”
Mason said that Weatherspoon’s mother, Stephanie, encouraged coaches to be demanding of her son and not let up. As his sophomore season approached and was played, the biggest changes came on the defensive side of the court and the mental game.
“He was a guy that really wasn’t crazy about playing defense, as most guys aren’t, but he really took a lot of pride in growing on the defensive end and really just matured a lot as the season went on,” Mason said. “He’d sometimes worry about things he could not control earlier in the season, and as the season progressed, we really saw a big jump in his maturity.”
Weatherspoon averaged nine points and four rebounds per game. His size allowed the Tigers to use him both inside and outside, where he hit 37 3-pointers.
Mason said the speed of the game was the toughest part of the transition for Weatherspoon, as it is for most new varsity players. After the Conroe Christmas Classic, the sophomore began to hit his stride.
“It was almost like he was in better shape and was more active,” Mason said. “He looked to rebound more. Kamari is a really good shooter, and we’ll look to lean on that more going forward, but we also had a couple of other good shooters (this year), and Kamari is really helpful inside, so he really bought into that role of playing around the basket as opposed to shooting 3s.”
Now that he’s established himself as a player, Mason expects Weatherspoon to take on new roles in his junior season.
“We’re going to need him to be a leader,” he said. “He’s capable, especially leading by example, because he’s definitely going to be a force for us. We look forward to him being a leader for us and having an impact on the floor, night-in and night-out.”
COACH OF THE YEAR: Shannon Spencer, Lake Creek
As its second season approached, improvement was an expectation at Lake Creek.
“Everything was in place,” Shannon Spencer said. “Our strength and conditioning program was in place; everybody was bought in. If we weren’t going to be any better this year, I should’ve been fired. Everything went according to plan, and I think we exceeded people’s expectations.”
The Lions finished their second season with a 27-15 overall record, a 12-win improvement from Year 1. After a second-place finish in District 20-5A, Lake Creek won its first-ever playoff game, then added two more wins before losing to Fort Bend Hightower in the regional semifinals.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Spencer said of the season. “When it’s happening, you don’t really realize what you’ve done. It was an incredible journey. I think the kids accomplished a ton in two years, and it was just one heck of a run.”
A modern approach helped the Lions succeed. Six players finished the season with 15 or more 3-pointers, and the team averaged eight made 3-pointers per game.
“Today’s game is pretty much four guards and a postman and sometimes not even a postman,” Spencer said. “Our biggest attribute, I thought, was most of our guys can step out and hit the 3, and we spent a lot of time shooting it.”
Lake Creek took down Magnolia, Cedar Park and No. 11 Hutto in the postseason before it fell to No. 2 Hightower. Spencer credited his team’s non-district schedule for its playoff success. In 16 non-district games, the Lions faced 10 Class 6A opponents and 11 teams that went on to make the playoffs.
One district game gave Lake Creek a push it needed. On Jan. 21, coincidentally the coach’s birthday, the Lions lost to Kingwood Park. It was just their second district loss up to that point, and it sparked a run that took them into the postseason.
Lake Creek won six of its next seven games. The only loss was to Montgomery with two starters out, and one of the wins was over perennial power and eventual district champion Huntsville.
As momentum continued to build around the team, there were fewer and fewer seats available in the stands. Lake Creek had a loud and proud fan base, and Spencer was grateful for it.
“The community support was absolutely unbelievable,” Spencer said. “It’s all you dream about with high school sports and what they should be. More and more people showed up to games as the season went on. Everybody likes to see a winning ball club, and I can’t thank the community and all of our sponsors and parents and fans enough.”