Harlan County won’t enter the 2014 basketball season with the expectations that were placed on the team in past seasons. However, if the their performance in the Kentucky AAU Tournament at the Kentucky Basketball Academy last weekend is any indication, the Black Bears will likely be in the hunt for a regional championship again next year.
“We learned that even though we lost a lot of players that we have a very good basketball team. We really like this group. They play hard and together,” said Harlan County assistant coach Michael Jones. “We have a lot of things to work on like everybody else, but I like our chances.”
Harlan County’s tournament path began in a difficult group. The Bears fell to state contender Henry Clay in the first game of group play, before dropping a 56-54 decision against 14th Region power Perry Central. The Black Bears then cruised to a 76-45 victory over Cordia.
“We finally put things together and played well against Cordia. It was tough coming off of back-to-back losses, but the kids bounced back,” Jones said. “Cordia ended up making it to the final four, so it was a big win for our kids. That gave them a lot of momentum going into tournament play.”
Harlan County then turned in a dominant 91-44 victory over East Jessamine in the first round of tournament play. The Jaguars went 23-8 last season, but were no match for the Black Bears.
“East Jessamine has a solid team. The score probably doesn’t indicate that, but they do. Our kids played really well. Beating a team like that was a good way to open the tournament,” Jones said.
Harlan County picked up its biggest win of the summer in the round of 16, knocking off 15th Region champion Johnson Central 72-65.
“Johnson Central has a really good team with everybody back. That was the first game they have lost all summer,” said Jones. “They beat us by 13 in the second game of the summer, so that just showed how far the kids have come and what type of kids we have. That game had a regional tournament atmosphere. We beat a really good team that will be in the top 10 in the state when the preseason rankings come out.”
Tyler Miller shined in the victory over Johnson Central. The junior forward finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds against the Golden Eagles and Shane Hall, who is rated as the 19th best forward in the 2014 class by scout.com.
“Miller was excited to play in that game. He really went after it, and played as hard as he could possibly play,” Jones said. “When he gives that type of effort it makes everybody on the team better. It was great to see him play well against Shane Hall.”
The Bears’ run came to an end in the quarterfinals in an 81-73 loss to Lexington Christian Academy.
Harlan County received consistent play from the forward trio of Miller, Zach Caldwell and Fred Massey throughout the event. That group is expected to lead the team next season.
“All three of them had real solid tournaments. Caldwell was really consistent. He shot the ball well from the 3-point line and did a good job competing against Shane Hall and (Perry Central’s) Justin Johnson. Fred gives you all he’s got all the time. He does the little things that don’t always show up in the box score.”
Jones said juniors Cody Bumgardner and Trey Sanders were also solid in the backcourt.
“Trey Sanders had a heck of a weekend down there, and then the leadership of Cody Bumgardner really makes this team go. It was a solid team effort,” Jones said.
Harlan County continued to get strong play from its freshman class, including 32 points from Cameron Carmical in three elimination games.
“Cameron is so intelligent about the game of basketball. He makes us better when he is out on the floor,” Jones said. “Treyce Spurlock played a heck of a game against Johnson Central. Those two freshmen are going to make this team better.”
Harlan County will likely close the summer schedule today at home against Middlesboro.