When they earned starting jobs as freshmen, Treyce Spurlock and Cameron Carmical were complementary players on a rebuilding team.
As sophomores last year, Spurlock (12.8 points per game, 4.1 rebounds) and Carmical (11.8, 2.1) developed into two of the best young players in the region as they helped Harlan County win 18 games, capture the 52nd District Tournament title and push Knox Central to overtime in the 13th Region Tournament.
As juniors this season, Carmical and Spurlock have become the leaders on a young team that has no seniors and features perhaps the region’s top sophomore class.
“We’re a pretty inexperienced team, and I’ve told them they had to follow Treyce’s and Cameron’s lead,” Harlan County coach Michael Jones said. “They’ll take us as far as we can go. I think once some of the young ones grow up, we’ll be a good basketball team.”
Spurlock (12.8 points per game, 4-1, rebounds), at 6-6, is developing into perhaps the region’s best shooter and is already drawing Division I attention as he continues to improve.
“Treyce has gotten stronger and has improved his ability to get to the basket,” Jones said. “I think Treyce has become a great leader. We feel he’s one of the best shooters around, especially off the dribble.”
After two years at wing, Carmical (11.8) returns to what Jones describe as “his natural” point guard position. He thrived in that role in the summer where his ball-handling and passing skills help make everyone on the team better.
“He’s much more comfortable there, and he’s in control of our offense,” Jones said. “He’s becoming more of a verbal leader now. He is really controlling practice. He and Treyce have to score a lot for us to be in games this year, and they both are capable of doing it.”
Drew Nolan (2.2), the leader of last year’s regional championship freshman team, is expected to round out the backcourt after a strong summer when he established himself as a third scoring option.
“We feel Drew is the key to our basketball team. He has improved so much and gotten stronger,” Jones said. “He’s doing a great job of attacking the basket. We’ve told him people will key on Treyce and Cameron and he has to be able to lead us in scoring. His defense is also getting better. He should have the ability to guard anyone on the floor because of his strength.”
David Turner, a 6-2 junior who played well in the summer against bigger opponents, takes over at center following the graduation of Tyler Miller and Zach Caldwell.
“David is another key for us. He is strong and is our best defensive player inside,” Jones said. “He does a good job on the boards, especially for his size. He has the capability of hitting shots out on the floor. He did a great job this summer of guarding people bigger than him.”
Tyrese Simmons, a 6-foot sophomore with tremendous athleticism, is expected to win the final starting job as the fourth guard.
“Ty is an extremely good athlete, one of the best around,” Jones said. “His shot has improved. He will be a big key in rebounding. Defensively, he can guard any position on the floor. He plays extremely hard. He has to take advantage of his scoring opportunities.”
Andrew Creech, a sophomore point guard, is the Bears’ sixth man and defensive ace.
“Andrew is one of the quickest players we’ve been around here. He is outstanding defensively,” Jones said. “He can really bother a guy who has the basketball. He plays as hard as anybody we’ve got. His shooting ability has improved so much. He will be our first sub, but we consider him just like a starter.”
Lamar Burkhart, a sophomore who can play inside or outside, is expected to see extensive action at forward.
“He has improved a lot, and he’s always been a good shooter,” Jones said. “Lamar has gotten stronger. He does the dirty work that doesn’t always show up in the stats, and we need that.”
The Bears’ depth was given a boost when three football standouts, junior Joey Swanner and sophomores Christian Hall and Jacob Branson, joined the team earlier this month after the grid season ended.
“Christian is getting back into basketball mode. He has the ability guard people out on the floor and has done a good job in our press. Jacob is an extremely smart player, and we can tell he can do some things that can help us,” Jones said. “We’re glad to have Joey back with us after a year away. He plays the same speed all the time, and that’s all out. We love the way he plays. We think all three of them can help us.”
The strength provided by the three football players will help make up for the graduation losses. With Miller, at 6-6, and Caldwell, at 6-3, among the four players graduating, the Bears lost much of their size. The Bears played a faster style in the summer and had quite a bit of success, especially in the state AAU tourney when they knocked off several good teams, including Scott County, Montgomery County and Madison Central.
“We’ll have to get up and down the floor and cause some turnovers,” Jones said. “We’ll press as much as possible. On offense, we’ll push it down the floor and encourage our kids to take the shot if it’s there and be aggressive. We feel as the year progresses we’ll have a pretty good team. It will take some time because we’re inexperienced at a lot of spots. I think by the end of the year we can be better than last year. It took us a while to get going this summer, but by the end of the summer we were pretty good. We hope it goes that way this season.”
Jones called defense a key to the Bears’ success this season
“We’ll have to play good defense and create turnovers,” he said. “We also have to do a good job of blocking out. When people see us, they will notice we don’t have much size. You can counteract that by how you play defensively and putting a body on people. I’ve been around this game a long time and seen several teams win this region without a lot of size.”
Sophomore A.J. Simmons and freshmen Gabe Price, Alex Pace, Michael Simpson and Matt Simpson round out the varsity roster.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134