For the Washington County boys’ basketball team the 2012-13 season will be one about progression, as Head Coach Russell Burkhead’s team will be among the youngest of his tenure.
The Commanders have three seniors this season and only one that saw extensive playing time last season, and with a few new faces this year, experience will have to come as the season rolls along.
“It’s going to be one of the youngest teams I’ve had,” Burkhead said. “We’ve got (seniors) Alex Marshall, Marquise Stateman and Tyler Loving, who came out this year and has been a pretty good surprise. He sat out a couple of years and he’s not going to score a lot, but boy he can play defense. He’s really going to make us a lot better defensively.”
Defense will be a key for the undersized Washington County team, and Burkhead said that’s because he plans on pushing the ball offensively this year.
“We’re going to try to get up and down the floor. If you remember Loyola Marymount years ago, they’d just see how many shots they could get up. That may be the way we have to play, because we’re so small. Our defense is going to have to keep us in games,” he said. “We’ve had a clock up in practice and we’re trying to get a shot up in under 10 seconds. Some nights it’ll work and some nights it won’t, but we’ll be a lot of fun to watch.”
Marshall and junior Thomas Pettus will be called on to shoulder much of the offensive load this season, with Pettus extending defenses from the perimeter and Marshall attacking the rim, at least that’s what Burkhead wants to see.
“I’ve had some colleges inquire about Alex. I tell him he’s a lot like Alex Poythress at Kentucky, he’s so laid back that you have to push him all the time,” Burkhead said. “He’s a kid that could dominate a game and put up 20-25 points a night, because he can score inside or out, but his mentality is almost pass-first. He’s a great kid and makes great grades, but we’ll go as far as he and Thomas Pettus take us on the offensive end.”
Marshall said he’s fully aware of what he needs to do to take on a bigger role this year.
“I’ve got much more of a leadership role. I need to carry the team and help them come along a lot more than I did last year,” he said. “I’ve got to attack the basket and hit more jump shots.”
With four seniors departing following last season, including the four-year starting backcourt of Trae Abell and Connor Riney, there are some gaps to fill in 2012 and ball security will be a focal point.
“Thomas Pettus is going to have to step up,” Burkhead said. “I told him that teams saw him last year, so they’re going to be trying to shut him down, whereas last year he had Riney and Abell to take some of the pressure off of him. He, (Evan Blake Burkhead) and Marquise Stateman are going to have to take care of the basketball.”
While Marshall and Pettus may be called on to lead the team in scoring, they have a supporting cast of newcomers and improving underclassmen that will look to help improve on last season’s 7-22 record.
Aside from Loving, the Commanders welcome another gridiron-turned-hardwood athlete in junior Morgan Churchill, who will provide WC with some much-needed size.
“Morgan Churchill came out to play this year and he’s probably going to start,” Burkhead said. “He’s big and takes up a lot of space and he’s got great hands. I think he’ll really help us.”
Burkhead also mentioned juniors Jared Young and Tylyn Byas as guys that will see expanded roles this season. Young gives the Commanders an inside presence and his coach said he could be a surprise this year. Byas, like Loving, will provide energy on the defensive end and brings quickness and athleticism that will give opponents’ perimeter players fits.
The youth of the varsity team could stretch into the freshman class as well, as Burkhead praised the work they’ve put in.
“I’ve got a freshman kid that I’m not sure won’t play some varsity and that’s Michael Wheatley. Physically, he’s ready for varsity basketball, he’s stout as a bull, but mentally and with the speed of the game he’s not quite there yet. Sometimes when you’ve got a young team you just have to throw them to the wolves and see what happens,” he said. “Justin Shelton has looked really good and he’s probably the fastest kid we’ve got on the team. Zach Graves will have a chance to play some, as well as (sophomore newcomer) Jordan Bottoms.”
Taking a look at WC’s schedule, it’s a rocky road for such a young team to start the season, but those early challenges could pay off as they get deeper into the season.
“The early part of the season’s going to be a challenge when we have to play Bethlehem twice and Bardstown twice, but I’m anxious to get started,” Burkhead said. “Once we get through Christmas, our schedule lightens up a little bit. I’m not saying we can’t win some games early, but it’s going to be a daunting task with a young team.”
The 19th District got a shake-up in the offseason, as Thomas Nelson joined for its inaugural season. Burkhead pointed out that Nelson County took the biggest blow from the addition, losing several talented underclassmen to the Generals. Bardstown and Bethlehem, however, return talented teams that earned trips to the region tournament last year.
“(Bardstown’s) JV team went something like 21-1 last season and Bethlehem has probably one of the top players in the region back in Jordan Cooper,” he said.
In a talented five-team district, the Commanders are sure to have their eye on a top-three seed in the district tournament to avoid an extra game in the four-five matchup.
“Contending in the district is what I want to do, because we haven’t really done that in the past,” Pettus added.
Washington County will travel to Adair County Dec. 20-22 and LaRue County Dec. 26-28 for holiday tournaments, and they’ll take on Green County in the 5th Region All-A Classic on Jan. 14 in Fort Knox.
The Commanders start the season on Tuesday at home against Taylor County at 8 p.m.