BOYS' BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Drury says, 'We can be good'

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Despite heavy graduation losses, Bearcats expected to improve as season progresses

By John Herndon

Most people in Glen Drury's predicament would be wringing their hands, at best, or even take a journey into full-fledged weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Gone from Anderson County's lineup is Jacob Russell and better than 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds.  Also gone is Will Ruggles, never one to care about any stat but the scoreboard. He just wins. Both moved into the starting lineup in their freshman year.
Allen Warford, a two-year starter, is gone too. So is Grant Cox, who moved into the starting linuep last year. Ben Walker, Tyler Hyatt, Taylor Trimble. All graduated.
Back is an offensive production of less than 10 points a game. One of the state's biggest teams when they went to the Sweet 16 two years ago, the Bearcats could be lining up with five guards at times.
And Drury just smiles, “You know, I kind of like those teams with five guards.”
While no one is predicting a run at the Sweet 16 this year – Anderson is rarely mentioned as one of the region's top five teams in 2011 – Drury firmly says, “I think this team can be good.”
The key words are “can be.”
Few are making the bold predictions at this time. Realistically, there are far too many questions: Who will replace Russell? Who will replace Ruggles? Both were four-year starters.
The obvious answer is no one. But the Bearcats will be a work in progress that really could be a force in a weakened Eighth Region by March.
At press time, at least seven, possibly more, players that figure to be key factors for the Bearcats were getting ready for a regional football championship game. One, junior guard Ethan Kelly, saw considerable varsity action last year and actually started some games.
It is the nature of high school athletics where players often play more than one sport. “It is good for the community, good for the school and good for the kids,” Drury says of the football team's run.
And, it might be very good for basketball, too. Several footballers, including Spencer Ruggles, Ryan Ratliff, Seth Carmichael and Logan Woodside, are among those expected to vie for spots alongside Newton.
“Right now, we are Erik Newton and four to be named,” Drury quipped when asked about his probable starting lineup.
Despite modest statistics from last year, Drury is very high on Newton, a senior. Newton displayed a nice shooting touch at times and knows only one speed – full – to his game. It is sometimes forgotten that as a sophomore, Newton was expected to compete for a starting nod on the 2009 regional championship team. Instead, he suffered a broken foot and saw only limited action late in the season.
“I think Newton has to have a great year (for Anderson to be successful),” Drury said. “He can be really good. He has developed his game and he is highly competitive. He really wants this team to do good.”
A fun-loving sort off the floor, Newton is obviously dead serious during practice, as he directs traffic, listens to Drury and stops to ask questions.
Kelly most likely will be in the lineup running the point as soon as possible after his football season ends. “He sees the court well but he has a lot to learn,” Drury says. “He can be a heck of a guard.”
Senior Zach Peach, a good shooter, will be called upon for significant varsity minutes for the first time in his career as will juniors Darrin Laswell and Lowell Gordon. Another senior, Tre Russell, can also tickle the nets.
Ratliff can give the Bearcats some size inside at 6-5, but his game is more suited to roaming in three-point land.
Ruggles -- “We really like his game,” Drury says – and Woodside can give Anderson a rugged inside presence but they are only 6-2 and 6-3, respectively.
“The key to this team is depth,” Drury says. “We have got to accept that we have 10-12 kids that can play and are real equal. We have to share time.”
And if egos become a problem?
“I won't let that happen,” Drury says.
As the season opens Monday at Casey, there are admittedly many questions about the Bearcats, but those who have watched Anderson over the years say that the Bearcats will be good by March.
“Anderson is always a factor with Coach Drury,” says Oldham County coach Jason Holland. “He will have them competitive by the end of the season and they could be in the regional tournament, where they will be a tough out.”
“Anderson County is always a factor because they play hard and are well-coached,” says South Oldham coach Steve Simpson, whose team knocked the Bearcats off in regional play last year. “They will be in the thick of things by the end of the year.”
By the end of the year. That phrase is prevalent when discussing the current edition of the Bearcats.
Drury does not eschew that perception.
“That is a testament to the former players and our tradition,” he says. “It is quite a compliment to our program.
“We have been very fortunate on a four-year run. We have had good players and teamwork. The chemistry has been excellent. We had some well-raised kids and had people that wanted to be part of the program.”
But Drury also knows that it makes the season for some of his opponents to upend Anderson County, a program that has had only three losing seasons in Drury's 23 years at Anderson. It also makes for expectations locally.
“In 1998, we had one starter back (from a Sweet 16 team). At the end of  they year, they had (Top 10) University Heights on the ropes,” Drury recalls. That team also finished with a winning record.
“This team reminds me a lot of that 1991 team with Johnny Shouse,” he says. “We don't have much size but we have some kids that can shoot it.”
However, this team is expected to be much more deliberate. Scores in the 30s and 40s could be common. “We do what we have to do,” Drury says.
Part of that is making the schedule a bit more manageable, but it is still not loaded with patsies. “We have some things we are going to have to work through,” Drury says. “As the coach, I have to look out for our team. I do not want to put the kids in an inferior situation.”
However, the second game of the season is against 11th Region power Madison Central.
“We don't have visions of the club being great to start out. We have a lot to work on. This will be a fun group to watch. There could be a lot of close games, but by the end of the year, we can be good.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.