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Even without McKee and Cann, Lady Bearcats could return to Diddle

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Cupboard not bare for Anderson girls' hoops

By John Herndon

The reality will probably hit Tony Kays sometime around October 15.

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That's when high school basketball teams can drop the “informal” and “conditioning” tags from their gatherings and get to work on the 2014-15 season.

It will also be the first time since 2009 that Kays will know that Eriel McKee and Makenzie Cann will not be in the lineup. He'll also know someone other than Destiny Stewart will be running the show and that someone besides Alex Avritt and Jessica Rice will be asked to do the little things that elevate teams to a higher level of success.

“I've been having some time to reflect on what an unbelievable ride it has been with these seniors,” Kays said recently. “I have been around the kids and know what kind of kids they are. Each kid brought something special to the team.

“Kenzie and Eriel could take over a game, but the other three have high basketball IQ's and they completed the team.”

Off the court, there were never playing time issues. Kays says all are top-notch students.

On the court? The Class of 2014 actually started playing varsity basketball as eighth-graders, compiling a 129-31 record over that time. They advanced to the state tournament three times, making it all the way to the Final Four as juniors and Elite Eight as seniors. They won five consecutive 30th District titles.

(McKee played extensively as a seventh-grader, being named all-region that year, while Cann saw some varsity minutes that season. Anderson went 20-7 with a district title and regional runner-up finish then.)

Cann (Cincinnati) and McKee (Morehead State) have both signed with NCAA Division I schools. Both were Miss Basketball finalist and both have been named to every all-state team imaginable.

Kays can only smile at the thought of starting next season without those who have been around so long.

“I may start pinching myself next fall when they are not here,” he said. “You think of a team that has two all-staters and a team like that has kids that think they don't get enough shots. That was never the case with this group.”

And Anderson, the county, noticed. Kays says he was talking to a long-time Bearcat fan not long after the team returned from Bowling Green and the Sweet 16 on March 15. “He told me he went our game with Mercer County (on Jan. 14) and said our first half was the best half of basketball he'd seen. That was a real compliment to our team.”

Another compliment could also be found in the idea that Anderson County could return to Diddle Arena for another Sweet 16 next March.

It is really not that far-fetched.

The Lady Bearcats probably won't be the Eighth Region favorite starting next season. That will probably be either Walton-Verona or Shelby County, but Kays knows that his cupboard is not bare. Four players who saw extended varsity minutes, including two – Kaci Currens and Corrin Robinson, who have started at times in their careers – return. Currens and Robinson could very well be among the Eighth Region's Top 10 players next season.

“I think, on a given night, we will be able to beat anyone in the region,” Kays says. “If we stay healthy, we should contend (for the regional title) again.”

Missa Walker was a major contributor off the bench the last two seasons while Mia Aldridge emerged as a tough competitor whose minutes increased over last season. At least four other players are expected to battle for playing time.

As junior varsity players, their appearances in varsity games were often limited, but Anderson's junior varsity lost just once, an overtime setback to Louisville Mercy.

“Our JV team got a lot better because they were going against Eriel McKee and Makenzie Cann every day in practice. We will see if it pays dividends next year,” Kays says. “I know our kids expect to win.”

The major issue, again, will be size. Anderson, already smallish this season, will likely be even smaller next year.

But the Lady Bearcats will be toughened again by a rugged schedule. “I thought with this group of seniors graduating, scheduling would be easier. That is not the case. A lot of teams don't want to play us.”

Anderson's schedule will include some of the state's best, including Lafayette, Franklin County, Lincoln County, Mercy and Dunbar.

Kays, who retired from teaching several years ago, says he will be back on the sideline, too. “Why wouldn't I be back? (The enormous talent level he's had) does not have anything to do with why I coach.

“As long as my health is good and as long as I can help them get better, I will be here.”

And don’t be surprised if Kays is still smiling in 2015.