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The Panthers basketball team has all the pieces in place for this to be a successful year.
The team boasts five seniors, but has nine players with varsity experience. Four of the five top-scorers and three of the five top-rebounders from last year’s squad return, including senior Dallas Gibson, who averaged a double-double with 15.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
“We have a lot of different types of players that we are very optimistic will mesh together to give us a good team,” head coach Carroll Yager said in an interview Nov. 21. “We’ve got some size. We’ve got some shooters. We’ve got some ball-handlers. We’ve got some quickness. We’ve got a lot of different types of players that like each other and are wanting to be successful, and we’re excited about the upcoming season.”
Seniors Gibson and Trey Boles are three-year starters, while senior Brandon Stewart started every game last season in the point guard spot. The team’s other two seniors are Jay Damron and Patrick Booth.
Yager said he will be looking for a lot of things both offensively and defensively from Boles and Gibson.
“(Trey has) gotten a lot stronger; he’s jumping better,” Yager said. “He’s worked on his shooting. He can play inside, he can play outside, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Yager said he expects similar things from Gibson and wants to move him out on the floor more. He said he hopes Gibson will be able to continue to improve both his rebounding and scoring numbers. “I’m hoping he can be a very dominating player.”
Yager said he will be looking for leadership from his floor general, Stewart. “I’m hoping the year’s experience last year is going to catapult him into the positions where he is a really, really solid point guard, trying to run the team and be the spark plug outthere, be the guy who generates energy for us when we need energy.
Damron will be counted on to give a really good defensive effort night in and night out. “He may be someone we look to to be a stopper and challenge him to take on some people,” Yager said. “He’s got good quickness and can make things happen in transition.”
Booth is still recovering from a knee injury that occurred in practice when he and junior Dakota Corbin collided and hit knees while jumping up for a high pass. Corbin’s knee got better after a couple of days, but Booth is still undergoing physical therapy. The head coach said he hopes to have Booth back in a couple weeks, but he is not sure yet.
“With him, he’s a good outside scoring threat,” Yager said. “He plays with tremendous energy. He’s all over the place out there, and when you play with someone who has a lot of energy, it generates more energy.”
While it is sometimes hard to gauge a team’s progress during an intrasquad scrimmage, Yager said it gives the coaches an opportunity to look at some different players and combinations. One thing he has been really pleased with is his team’s willingness to make the extra pass for a better shot.
“The thing about this group is they really play unselfish,” he said. “Somebody would pass up a so-so shot to get it to somebody that had a wide-open shot, and we really shared the ball well. I’m hoping that will continue to carry forward and be one of our strengths.”
Yager said the team has also spent a lot of time on defense. “We’re really trying to hone in on the fact that if we’re going to be good that we’re going to have to stop people.”
The Panthers also have been shooting well so far this season. In addition to the Black and Gold game, the team also won two scrimmages against Western Hills and Kentucky Country Day.
Yager said the team will try to push the ball up the court a little more this year, especially early on in the season, and play a more up-tempo style.
The Panthers opened up the regular season with a home game against Villa Madonna Tuesday, however results were unavailable by press time. They will battle Trimble County on Thursday at home.
The team will compete in two holiday tournaments: The Swauger Holiday Classic in Bellevue Dec. 21-22 and The National Guard Holiday Classic in LaRue County Dec. 27-29. Yager said both are eight-team tournaments, and they are guaranteed to play three games. The Panthers will play Berea in the first game of the Bellevue tournament and will take on Washington County to open the LaRue County tournament.
“I think playing in tournaments helps gets you ready for the Class A, it helps you get ready for the district and the region,” Yager said on why he likes playing in holiday tournaments. “It gives you the opportunity to play some teams you wouldn’t normally play, and I always like to take a road trip. … It’s a fun experience for the kids and it’s something they’ll always remember, the road trip that they took, and we try to go somewhere different, kind of mix up where we’re going.”
The Panthers will take on Williamstown in the opening round of the 8th Region All-A Classic Jan. 16 and will close the season with four straight home games, the last Feb. 15 against Walton-Verona.
Yager said his team was ranked 10th preseason out of 16 teams in the region by Cats’ Pause magazine. He said he expects the district to be very competitive.
“I think all five teams are pretty close,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of those years where somebody is going to step up and maybe be the front runner.”
According to preseason projections, defending district champ Owen County is ranked one of the top four or five teams in the region, he said, and likely the district favorite. He said Gallatin County also was ranked ahead of Carroll County by Cats’ Pause in the region.
Yager said he is optimistic about his team’s chances to have a really good season. The team will look to improve upon last year’s 14-14 record, which was the highest win total for the Panthers since the 2005-06 season when they finished 15-15. The team was 7-12 in the region, 3-9 in district play.
“I think we have a chance to have a pretty good year,” Yager said. “I’m excited about this season; I’m excited about this group of boys. I’ve been with some of them all four years, and I really, really like them. I think they represent the school and the community really, really well and I think it’s going to be a fun, fun year.
“I want to encourage the community to come out, especially early. Come out early and see what we look like and I think they’ll come back. I would really like to see our home side packed, and I think it’s something the community would really be proud of.”