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The Carroll County Panthers have two scrimmage outings on their calendar during this Thanksgiving holiday week in preparation for the opening of the 2010-11 basketball season next Tuesday.
Head coach Carroll Yager hopes the scrimmages will help fine-tune his young team for the opening game on the road at Williamstown and the team’s home opener with Trimble County on Thursday, Dec. 2.
“We’re going to be looking to our three seniors,” Yager said. “Ethan Stewart, we’ll be looking for him to contribute in a variety of ways. Zach Wise has really demonstrated leadership and his shooting has improved. He is really developing as a player. We’ll also be looking to Tyler Grant, in terms of his energy and things that he can bring to the game.”
Stewart was a starter throughout the season a year ago and Wise joined the starting lineup late in the season.
“We’re going to have a couple of people that have some experience and then we’re going to be really young,” Yager said.
How well the youth meshes with the older players will be a factor early in the season, the coach observed. He expects his Panthers to get better as the season progresses and the underclassmen get some experience.
“Some other people are going to have to step up a little bit in their roles from last year,” he said.
The Panthers have suffered a number of injuries in preparation for the season. Only one player had attended all 20 pre-season practices as of last Friday, Yager said.
Wise required surgery on his left shoulder late in the summer and elected not to play football to allow recovery time from the surgery before basketball season.
“During the time that his shoulder was recovering we had him in here working on form shooting,” Yager said. “His left shoulder was the shoulder that had the surgery so he could do things with his right hand. That gave us an opportunity and gave him an opportunity to really spend some time just working on his form. He has really improved his shooting. He got to start pretty close to Oct. 15th so he’s had a few weeks of practice in that he didn’t normally get in past years when he played football.”
One player, John Michael Adams, is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered during football season, Yager said. Jay Damron injured his hip and hasn’t been able to practice for about a week and a half. Dallas Gibson missed about two weeks after hurting his hand chopping wood.
“We’ve had a slew of injuries,” Yager said. “I’ve never been involved with a team that had this many injuries prior to the season. Consequently, being young and our injuries on top of that our progress to this point is behind where we hoped it would be.”
Yager said his coaching staff looks for sophomores Gibson and Trey Boles to have “breakout years.” Junior John Perry has worked real hard in the off-season, the coach said, and he looks for him to be a contributor.
“From there we’re looking for a point guard,” Yager said. “We’ve looked at a lot of different people at this point. We may have a variety of people out there handling it for us. That’s going to be something that we’re going to try to get resolved.”
Among the candidates for point guard are sophomore Brandon Stewart and freshman Austin Crowell who will be trying to make a jump from seventh grade to varsity “which is gigantic,” Yager said. Crowell had an ACL injury and had to have surgery so he wasn’t able to play his eighth grade year.
“We may rotate Ethan Stewart out at point guard some,” Yager said. “We might look at him depending on who we’re playing and how we’re playing.”
The Panthers have a few minor changes to their schedule this season, adding a second game with Eminence and picking up new opponent Louisville Collegiate. The team has dropped Walton-Verona from two games a year ago to one. The North Central Kentucky Conference changed its scheduling rules this season so that each school is no longer required to play every conference foe twice. The Panthers will still face District tournament foes Gallatin, Owen and Henry counties twice during the regular season. Carroll will also face border rival Trimble County twice. Absent from the schedule this season is perennial powerhouse Oldham County.
“We’re playing in Jackson County in an invitational tournament over the Christmas break,” Yager said. “We thought that would be a good opportunity to go to the mountains and let the guys have an opportunity to play some teams from other regions.”
The six-team tournament includes Jackson, Owsley, Breathitt, Rockcastle and Estill counties in addition to the Panthers.
“As time passes I think we’re going to see growth continuously throughout the year,” Yager said. “When you’re young you’re going to have some ups and downs. We’re real optimistic but in the realistic sense we’re going to be real young and we’re going to have to learn how to compete at this level. That’s just going to have to come during games.”
During the past few seasons Yager had a lot of adrenalin going with coaching his son Will who will be playing on the college level this year.
“It is different not having Will here,” the coach said. “There are a lot of great memories that he and I are going to be able to share and the opportunity that I had to coach him was overall a good experience for us.”
Despite the absence of his son from this year’s Panther lineup, Yager says he has not lost his “passion” for coaching high school basketball.
“High school basketball has always been a passion of mine,” he said. “At no time did I ever lose that passion. I’ve been to every state tournament since I was in about the seventh grade and I’ve not missed one the entire time. I’ve always been an avid fan.”
Being retired as a school administrator allows him to focus totally on coaching, he said. As long as the enthusiasm for the challenge remains he will continue to coach.
“Right now I’m as excited as you could be about an upcoming season,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be prepared enough through practice that we’ll be able to make adjustments in the game. Our young kids are working hard and listening and want to learn. I talk to them a lot about the journey, when you look back at your high school days, it’s not the games so much. It’s the journey and all the things you do along the way, the fellowship and all the things that happen.”