• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Jackets look to return to top of district under Wilson

BRANDON CROMWELL, No. 14, will be one of the players to watch on this year’s Woodford County High School boys’ basketball team. The senior is very strong on defense, and on offense he is fast and enjoys attacking the rim and shooting jump shots. (File photo by Rick Capone)

The Woodford County High School boys’ basketball team enters the 2016-17 season with a new head coach in Ryan Wilson, and a group of players ready to work and return to the top of the 41st District. Wilson took over head coaching duties at Woodford after four years as an assistant to Scott Hundley, who resigned after last season, and he is looking forward to his first year at the helm of the Yellow Jackets. “It’s been exciting. Learning something new every day,” said Wilson. “Learning … things that I have been supposed to be doing that I didn’t know I needed to. But, it’s been exciting to lead a group of young men, lead a program and see how you’re implementation takes affect and what it looks like – big picture type stuff. I’m excited to see the first game and see how it all correlates into the actual thing. I (also) think the guys are excited. They’re ready to play somebody else. I think they’re hungry to get back and win a (district) championship as well.”

RYAN WILSON, left, a four year assistant coach under former head coach Scott Hundley, enters his first season at the helm of the WCHS boys’ basketball team. One of the players he is counting on to help the team this year is senior Keagan Stromberg, No. 25, above. (File photo by Steve Blake/multiexposures.com)

Last season, Woodford finished 14-17 overall, 9-7 in the region and 6-2 in the district. The Yellow Jackets were the runner-up in the 41st District tournament, losing 65-57 in the championship game, and lost in the first round of the 11th Region tournament to Henry Clay. When interviewed after weeks of practice, Wilson still did not have his full roster in place, as a few of the players were still playing football. Still, he was happy with what he had seen from his players, especially with the changes he has been making. “We’re still trying to figure some things out,” said Wilson. “I think once we get our full team back together when our football guys come back out, we’ll have a little bit better feel of what we’ll look like full strength. “We’re implementing a lot of new things from terminology to a new offensive scheme to a completely new defensive scheme. So, there’s been a huge learning curve and we’re lucky and blessed to have some highly intelligent young men, so they’ve picked up on that very quickly. “We’re progressing well. We’ve still got a lot of things that we need to put in. But the kids are coming in and working very hard every day. And I think we really like where we’re at. We’re just excited to have the opportunity to play against somebody else here in a few weeks. So, we’ll see.” While the team is young and still learning, Wilson does have some important goals to try and accomplish this year. “I think our first goal is we need to develop an identity,” he said. “Before, I don’t think we really had one identity. We want to get to a point where we’re the toughest team on everybody’s schedule. So, we’re doing a lot of that right now. We’re just having to develop toughness. Teaching (the players) what it means. Showing them what it looks like. Things like that.

KEAGAN STROMBERG, No. 25, is one of the players to watch this season on the WCHS basketball team. (File photo by Steve Blake/multiexposures.com)

“But, big picture, we want to get back on top of the district. After the last two years, I feel like we’ve had a great opportunity to win, but I feel like we were out-toughed. It’s kind of what we say. We want to get back on top of the district, and then get in the region – you’ve got to be in it to win it. “Toughness, winning district and getting back to region – those are our teams goals.” To that point, on Woodford’s practice gear, the No. 8 has been placed on the player’s shorts. “That has several meanings behind it, but one of them is to represent that we’re going for our eighth year in a row (to make it into the regional tournament. So, (the No. 8) kind of establishes some of that tradition and helps keep a goal in mind.” As to district competition this year, Wilson believes the team to beat is still Franklin County. He also believes his team is in good position to finish second. “I think that old saying, you stay on top until somebody knocks you off,” he said. “So I’d say Franklin County is probably going to be number one. They return a few starters and they return a top-ten caliber player (in Diablo Stewart). So, I believe they’re probably favored. And then I like us there in that second spot. Then I would say Western Hills and then Frankfort.” In the region, he believes that Dunbar, last year’s state champions, will be favored until someone beats them. They return the top player in the state in Taveion Hollingsworth. “But I think the best team is going to be Scott County,” he said. Along with Lexington Catholic, LCA, and another team that might get overlooked in Lafayette. While some positions are not set in stone until the football players return to the team, tentatively, Wilson has some players in mind at some of the positions. At point guard, he will be looking to senior Trevor White and sophomore Brandon Cromwell, who saw a lot of varsity time last year. In addition, freshman Anthony Tabor is another option that might surprise some opponents. “I think one of the surprises that probably nobody we’ll know about, or even heard about, is freshman Anthony Tabor. He possesses the leadership and skill level of an experienced three-year varsity starter. He’s been a great surprise, so he may be one who sneaks in there (at point guard) and takes that spot as well.” At the 2- and 3-guard positions, Wilson says that he is very deep in those positions and has a number of players that can play there. Cromwell is one of those players, along with four seniors Alex Cason, Griffin Mobley, Malik Richards and Keagan Stromberg. All of the players have enough experience to see playing time. “We’re going to be very interchangeable, and we’ve made it very clear to our guys that, you’re not a one, you’re not a five,” he said. “Every single one of you is a one through five because in our offense everything is interchangeable.” One other guard Wilson mentioned is senior Braxton Caudill. “He is another young man that really has come on strong this year. I think he put a lot of work in this summer to make sure that he was able to get on the floor this year. I think he’s going to be another one of those hidden secrets that nobody really expected or knows about. I think he’s one of those guys that you can find in the top ten in the region in three-point percentage and three-pointers made. “I think we’ve got a lot of ‘secret gems’ that people are going to slowly start hearing about. I’m excited.” At the forward positions, Wilson will look to a number of players including Cason, Mobley and Stromberg. Two other players he’ll look to include juniors Nick Smith and Corey George. “Junior Nick Smith is a newcomer (a transfer from Bryan Station),” said Wilson. “He’s (a player) that is gradually learning the gold standard way each day, and trying to work his way in. He’s very talented offensively, so we’re hoping he can find himself on the floor quite a bit. “Sophomore Corey George is probably a player that will start for us in the five position. He’s six foot playing a post position. He’ll be a five-man, with the ability to step out and play the four- and three-positions. He’s (a player) I expect to see (listed) in the top ten rebounders in the region. We have high expectations for (him).” As to the style of play he’ll be emphasizing, he says defense will be the first priority. “I’m a defensive guy, because I just think defense is a lot of – ‘want to,’” he said. “There is a lot of coaching in it, but, ultimately, it boils down to the fact that you’ve got to want to be better than the guy across from you. You’ve got to be tougher, you’ve got to be stronger. So I just want to be known as a defensively tough, group of young men. “And then I want them to develop some confidence on offense. I don’t want it to get to a point where they have to rely on me to draw a play. I’m putting a lot of confidence in our coaching staff that we coach them well enough during practice, so that they have the ability to go out and make plays on their own.” As to what fans can look forward to seeing from Woodford this season, Wilson said, “We want to try and create a lot of offense from our defense. We want to get up into people, we want to pressure. We don’t want to give up layups or open threes, we want to force people to shoot contested jump shots. “With that being said, we’re looking to get some long, easier rebounds and allow our guys to get out and run, because we do have a lot of guys that are right about six-foot that can handle the ball and they can run. So, we’re trying to create as much offense from our defense and get up and down the floor and press and things like that.” Wilson will be assisted by Nick Schuerman, who will also be the junior varsity coach, and Jerry Skeeter, who will also be the freshman coach. This Friday, Nov. 18, Woodford hosts Jacket Madness. Fans can get their first look at the 2016-17 team when they are introduced and play a scrimmage at 8:30 p.m.

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