Instead of dwelling on his team’s biggest biggest weakness, Harlan coach David Parks hopes to turn it into a strength.
With no one on the roster standing taller than 6-foot-1, the Dragons will have a hard time matching up with a good post player. That’s why Parks hopes he create some matchup problems of his own with a five-guard lineup that will emphasize quickness.
Harlan lost forwards Jordan Dupar and Tye Patrick to graduation, leaving a void in the post that Parks is unable to fill in the traditional way.
“We probably won’t play with a post man. We’re in a situation where we don’t have very much size. There are advantages and disadvantages to that,” Parks said. “When you have small kids, you have to make sure you do the things that don’t require talent, like blocking out. You don’t have to have talent to play hard.
“On the other side of that, it makes it difficult for the other teams. They will most likely have a big kid who will have to guard a guard. And without a post man, the floor is open. I have five kids who can dribble, and that should create some matchup problems. That’s the approach we’ll take.”
While the Dragons lack experience in the post they have no such problems in the backcourt where seniors Drew Parks (12.6 points per game last year) and Caleb Hogue (10.9, 2.7) are both four-year starters and junior Noah Busroe is a three-year stater (6.2, 4.7).
But even with their guard-oriented lineup, the Dragons won’t be a run-and-gun team.
“We’ve tried to run off made shots since I’ve been here, but we’ve had very little success with that, and I will take the blame for it,” Parks said. “We’ll try to create tempo by playing defense 94 feet. We have to dictate tempo and speed the game up in some form or fashion to make up for the size differential we will have with everyone. We have eight or nine kids that there’s not a lot of difference in. Plus, we have tremendous kids. It’s as good a group of youngins as I’ve ever been around.”
Unlike a year ago when they struggled to hit shots, especially the second half of the season, the Dragons should be a good shooting team, according to their coach.
“I think we’ll be much better offensively. Last year, we had such a hard time shooting the ball,” he said. “We have several kids who can shoot.”
Parks has been the Dragons’ top 3-point threat the last three years but suffered through a late-season slump last season.
“Drew is mine, so I expect a little more from him than the rest of them,” Parks said. “I have no question he will give the team everything he has. He’s a good shooter. If he gets daylight he can shoot the ball. I don’t know if he was pressing last year. The more you harp on it the worse it gets, but when he couldn’t make a shot on the perimeter we were in deep trouble. I think that will be different this year, because we have several kids who can shoot.”
Busroe is likely the most athletic of the Dragons as a standout in football, basketball, baseball and track. Busroe handled much of the ball-handling duties in the past but will likely see more action at a wing or even at forward. He was second on the team in rebounding last year to Dupar and is more a penetrator than a shooter.
“Noah is tremendously gifted athletically and is extremely intelligent,” Parks said. “I don’t know if Noah is comfortable with the ball (at point guard), but he can do a lot of things well. He’s a great kid who never says anything. He will do whatever you ask him to do and do it the best he can. He will also play some inside, because he’s so athletic. I think football was really good for him.”
Hogue, best known for his gritty style of play and leadership qualities, will miss at least half of the season after suffering a torn ACL during the Governor’s Scholars program in July. Hogue is scheduled to be examined again on Jan. 7.
“Caleb is a terrific kid who plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Parks said. “We miss him being able to play, but we hope we can get him back for the last part of the season.
Paul Stapleton, a 5-10 sophomore who started on the regional championship freshman team last year at Harlan County High School, appears to be the early favorite to start at point guard, a position held early last year by Busroe and later in the season by Hogue.
“Paul can score. He’s a slasher,” Parks said. “He adds strength and toughness to our team. Paul can get you points. He will get to the basket and make free throws. He’s also a good passer. He will be a big plus for us.”
Kilian Ledford, a likely starter at forward who at 6-1 is tied with Carter Barnes as the tallest player on the team, can play anywhere on the floor and was described by Parks as one of the region’s top freshmen.
“He’s tremendously gifted and very smart. He’s a good shooter and will have an outstanding career,” Parks said. “He will guard people inside because he’s strong and athletic.”
Trent McKenzie (2.8), a 5-9 junior, and Brandon Huff, a 6-foot senior, are the leading candidates for the other forward slot.
“McKenzie is also very athletic. Trent is a post player even though he’s 5-9. He can run like a deer and jump like a billy goat,” Parks said. “Brandon is a bigger kid, and I think if he had played for four years he would be a very good player. He can guard some people and is a pretty good shooter.”
Robbie Curry (2.9), a 5-8 senior, provided a 3-point threat for the Dragons last year in his first year of high school competition and has been among the team’s most improved players in the preseason. He could also earn a starting job at guard.
“He’s a very good shooter and his ball-handling is a lot better,” Parks said. “In a pinch, I could have four shooters on the floor at a time.”
Freshmen Cade Barnes and Carter Barnes will also see action off the bench, Cade at guard and Carter at center. Ethan Morton, a junior guard who led last year’s junior varsity team, is also expected to see extensive action, along with sophomore guard Tyler Carmical.
Parks is stressing building toward the postseason after watching the Dragons lose their last five games last season and eight of 10 the year before.
“I’m not sure if it’s the kids getting tired or not. I’m not sure that’s not the case in a lot of sports,” Parks said. “They start playing football in August, and by the time you get to the playoffs a lot of kids are ready for it to be over. That doesn’t sound good, I know, but that’s the truth. I’m not sure that’s not the same in basketball. A lot of times the only kids not wanting it over are the seniors, because they’re realizing they may never get to play again. I think you have to have strong leadership. Right now, I’m hunting and Alpha Dog, and we don’t have one at the moment. I hope one will emerge before the year is over.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134