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BUCKNER – Summer basketball offers different goals for different coaches.
For Oldham County’s Coy Zerhusen, it’s about fine-tuning an experienced group expected to contend for a Region 8 title.
For South Oldham’s Steve Simpson, this summer is about laying the foundation for an entirely new team after losing nearly all of the players off last year’s region champion team to graduation.
The teams’ experience levels showed June 5, as the Colonels beat the Dragons 49-34 during a summer league game hosted by OC.
The Colonels went 5-1 on the week including that win, while South went 2-2.
“Summer league is about giving guys opportunities to show improvement and to learn and to get better,” Zerhusen said. “That’s what we got out of this week was giving guys opportunities that hadn’t been there and just making sure the energy’s high and that it’s positive, that it’s a learning experience for all of them.
“The goal now is to get better for the fall.”
Official stats weren’t kept last week, but OC got its production from a familiar group of players.
The Colonels lost just two seniors, forward Austin Perkins and guard Jordan Gates, off the team that finished the season as District 29 champion and region semifinalist.
Point guard Hayden Hawes, last year’s district tournament MVP is back running the show for OC. Veteran shooting guard Connor Hicks returns alongside Hawes.
Darrius Taylor, a reserve guard last year, is seeing playing time on the wing.
Rising juniors Jacob Bates and Griffin McLarty are back in the frontcourt, as is Kyle Eldridge.
Eldridge got more playing time last season as the year went on and has been impressive so far this summer, Zerhusen said.
“A lot of it is confidence, a lot of it is getting more comfortable and familiar with our stuff and with our style and everything,” Zerhusen said. “But Kyle does some things hustle-wise and defensively and rebounding that we really need on our team. If he can continue to get us that and continue improving, it’s going to be a big help to us.”
Eldridge said he’s spent the offseason working on ballhandling, footwork and shooting.
“We’re still learning a lot,” Eldridge said, “like how to play with each other, building the chemistry, especially without two big parts of our team that have gone to college.”
Eldridge highlighted Clayton Wirth and Brennan Byrd as two players that have looked good early this summer.
“What I told them at the start of the summer was that they need to make my job hard in deciding who’s going to get playing time,” Zerhusen said. “They’re doing that.
“Everyone that’s going in is getting something done, everybody that’s going in is doing something positive.
“It makes my decision as a coach to decide playing time that much difficult, which is a good thing.”
A few miles down the road in Crestwood, Simpson is undergoing what he said was the most challenging transition from one team to the next during his career.
Gone are Jonathan Blair, Drew Greenwood, Michael Griffin, Kyle Young and the rest of last year’s seniors that took the Dragons to a second straight state tournament.
In their places are players like Grant Williams, Isaac Fields, Matt Cantina, Patrick King and Trent Bouvet who have talent but lack varsity playing time.
Williams was third-string point guard last season behind Blair and Zach McWilliams, but is now the starter.
“It’s not really about wins and losses when you have to replace a lot of those guys,” Williams said. “It’s more about working on the little things and getting better each day – coming together and by the end of the year being a competitive team.”
Williams played some this winter because of a hip injury suffered by Blair.
He and Fields got the most varsity minutes last year out of any of the returning players. Fields, a rising junior, hit four 3-pointers in South’s 62-58 win against OC Jan. 10 in Crestwood.
The younger brother of former Dragon standout Carson Fields averaged 3.2 points per game off the bench last year for South.
“Isaac has some experience and he’s learning how to play with four different people he hasn’t played with in years because he’s always played up,” Simpson said.
South’s inexperience showed at different times against OC, especially on defense.
“We ran our 1-3-1 half-court three times in that game and the wing never dropped,” Simpson said. “That’s just a common thing – the weak-side wing drops.
“That didn’t happen three times and they got three layups out of it. So last year that probably never happened any. It’s just a matter of kids learning it.”
The Dragons will likely take their lumps during the summer period, but Simpson said that’s fine as long as they’re getting experience for the games that count.
“We have no experience other than Isaac, Grant a little bit, so they’re learning each other, how to play out there together and they’re having to think so much right now that it’s hard to just play,” Simpson said. “Hopefully these summer games will speed up that process so when the actual games start we can begin to improve.”
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