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BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Bearcats looking for recipe to cook up success

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Ingredients available, finding right mix the key

By John Herndon

Glen Drury will never be confused with Emeril in the kitchen, but he's trying to concoct something that will be palatable come the latter part of February when the high school basketball tournaments begin.

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“There are some good ingredients in this bunch, but they have not mixed the recipe yet,” says Drury, who is looking for a way to replace four starters from a team that finished 21-10 and, more importantly, put an exclamation point behind the idea that Anderson County basketball is alive and well, thank you very much.

That doesn't mean Drury isn't experimenting with a pinch here, a smidgen there or finding the right sauce to blend with the available ingredients to make them all better. “Right now, it is the inability to mix the ingredients to come up with a nice dish. It's been a bit of a struggle so far,” Drury says as his Bearcats get ready to open the season on Nov. 30 when they host Washington County.

Emeril might know how to put something together to tickle the taste buds, but he hasn't won nearly 500 games. That is Drury's claim to fame. If he is significantly add to that total, many things will have to come together over the next three months.

Drury thinks they can.

“Basketball is the ultimate team game,” he says. “We have some depth and we can be in the thick of things (in the race for the regional title.)”

The Bearcats will never win any contests for being the biggest. Any success will have to come from adopting the ultimate team attitude.

“Look at UK last year,” Drury says of the defending NCAA champs. “They had great talent, but that was one of the most cohesive groups I have ever seen. They had tremendous talent but what set them apart was buying into the team concept.”

The Bearcats appear to be buying in. When they scrimmaged Southwestern on Nov. 3 in Indianapolis, they were very competitive against a team that had advanced to the state's Final Four last year and is considered one of the 12th Region favorites in 2013. Anderson was without several players, including several expected to start or play extended minutes due to their commitments to the Bearcat football team.

“I think everyone is buying into that,” says senior Jay Smith, the team's only returning starter. “We are playing well together and I think everyone is getting together.”

Drury's recipe does not include an Anthony Davis or a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. For one thing, the Bearcats are small. The tallest player on the roster is 6-foot-3.

Neither are the Bearcats experienced. Four starters, including two of the state's leading 3-point shooters, Lowell Gordon and Darrin Laswell, have graduated. Also gone from the group that was starting at the end of the year are Spencer Ruggles and Seth Carmichael.

Still, Drury is optimistic.

“I have five that can score a little bit,” he says.

“We have got a lot of young players,” Smith adds. “I think we are pretty deep.

In other words, there are lots of ingredients, just not one dominant flavor.

“My biggest worry right now is people buying into the team concept. We have to play with the idea 'It is not your shot. It is our shot,' Drury continues. “(John) Calipari is tremendous at meshing it at UK. The players have got to mesh. The reason we were good last year is we were a team.”

Ironically, though, conventional wisdom is the Bearcats will go as far as Smith (a 6-foot senior) can take them. A point guard by nature, Smith eventually had to move into a slightly different role last year when he played what amounted to a “point-forward.” Smith often took residence near the elbow to distribute the ball on offense and had to score inside. Defensively, he often found himself matched against bigger players.

“That is a challenge every night,” Smith says with a smile, “but with Ross (Cox) coming in, that should help out.

Smith is the only returning starter, but, due to a sickness his sophomore year, has only one full season of varsity ball under his belt.

Drury does not deny that Smith might have to carry a huge load, but he adds that he can't do it alone. “Smith is going to have to have the ball,” Drury says, “but he will only be as good as his teammates. A bicycle wheel has spokes. If one spoke is missing it doesn't roll.”

Anderson has to have people step into those missing roles if the Bearcats are to have a chance at unseating defending 30th District champion and Eighth Region favorite Collins.

Another senior, Austin Linzy, spot-started last year and saw considerable playing time. “He's an undersized post player,” Drury says. 

Cox, a junior, should see plenty of action inside. At 6-3, Cox is the tallest Bearcat returnee but Drury is counting on his hustle and nose for the ball being able to overcome the size problem.

Austin Hall, who was expected to give the Bearcats an inside presence, elected not to play this year after starting some a year ago.

Sophomore Dylan Scott started a scrimmage against Southwestern on Nov. 3 and Drury says junior Tyler Harrod could be in the mix for playing time.

The Bearcats are also intrigued by junior Darius Harvey as a threat in the low post. A standout lineman in football, Harvey could be as strong as any player in the region but combines that with great agility. “He's light on his feet,” Drury says. “He could be a big factor for us.”

In the backcourt, junior Christian Estes returns after seeing quality minutes in a reserve role. Estes showed an ability to make things happen, but Drury cautions, “He has a lot of potential but he needs to make sure he is on the same page with us.”

Another junior, Luke Mann, is a good 3-point shooter. At times last year, he provided spark off the bench, but it was not consistent. After a year of maturation, Drury says Mann “could have a breakout year.”

Sophomore Austin Cummins could also crack the lineup. A nice shooter with an innate feel for the game, Cummins could be in the starting lineup by season's end.

Another senior, Kyle Sutherland, started at times last year and could be in the lineup just about anywhere on the floor.

It is not likely that Anderson will go with a five-guard lineup, but the recipe could take any form beyond that.

“We have a lot of players that are about equal,” Drury says. “That is a luxury if our players can accept their roles and their playing time. The key to this team is accepting our depth. The parts have to come together.”

Like a great cook, Drury is experimenting. “We could have a lot of different lineups. I will be changing defenses a lot more than I have in the past. I am experimenting with a lot of things. I see a lot of good things with this team and we are going to have to have the trust of everybody.”

No one is predicting the Bearcats will be heading to Rupp Arena for the Sweet 16 in March. At the same time, stranger things have happened. Anderson appears to be part of a group of teams that are expected to be a bit behind Collins but could certainly upset one of the leaders.

“I think we will be all right,” Smith says.

For his part, Drury believes there is a recipe for success.

“I am really excited about this team. I really think we can be good. I want them to understand the greater they mesh, the more exciting they can be.”

 

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