School is out, summer is here and that only means one thing…basketball never stops.
The All “A” summer basketball series featuring Saint Patrick, Augusta, Robertson County and Nicholas County kicked off the summer camp season as the four met on Wednesday to get roundball action rolling.
The four will meet over four Wednesday’s, spanning from May 30-June 20, the last week a four-team, single elimination tournament taking place at Robertson County, seeding based off the prior week’s records in head-to-head play.
The Saints were the host on Wednesday, starting play with Robertson County followed by the Black Devils pairing with Augusta. St. Patrick followed with a contest against Nicholas County and the Bluejackets and Panthers met for the final matchup of the day.
Each team has a different outlook as they enter the summer, whether it be fine-tuning for a team that returns six of its seven rotational players with Robertson County, a team on the prowl for a new basketball coach like Augusta after Brian Kirk took the Mason County job or a team like St. Patrick, getting valuable minutes for middle schoolers, who will have no choice but to step up once the school season rolls around due to graduation and lack of numbers in high school players.
The Black Devils have a lot of optimism in Mount Olivet after a season in which they captured the first 10th Region All “A” title in school history to go with 20 wins. They return 52.7 of 66.5 points scored from their top seven, the lone departure a big one, losing Mason Burden, the school’s second all-time leading scorer.
“The kids know how good it felt to have the community support during the All “A” run. We’ve got the picture hanging up on the wall, we got the banner, we got the rings. It was a big to-do for Robertson County and the community to get behind us. They liked that feeling and the first thing we talked about yesterday at practice was don’t settle for one when we have the ability to win two or three more,” Black Devils coach Patrick Kelsch said.
The primary focus for Kelsch and the Black Devils this summer is staying healthy.
“To make it through with no injuries. Summer ball is one of those things I believe a lot of people do it because everyone else is doing it. I believe if the coaches were honest with you, they’d like to do away with summer ball or at least cut it down to where it’s not so demanding. But if you’re not playing the whole month of June, you’re falling behind,” Kelsch said. “What we use June for is to play teams we may not normally play, challenge us a little bit.”
On top of the summer series, the Black Devils will be playing at Pendleton County, Paris, Fleming County and Morehead State’s team camp.
Kelsch wanted to ramp up competition to get the Black Devils not only ready for the upcoming season, but when regional All “A” play begins in January to go with 38th District play that will carry more importance starting this season as the district voted to seed moving forward for the district tournament.
“We know with seeding now if we don’t get to the region it’s our fault. I’m a big fan of the draw, it’s no secret, but they voted to seed and that’s the way it’s going to have to be and the regular season means more,” Kelsch said.
The Black Devils will also be playing in the Lexington Catholic Traditional Bank Holiday Classic in December in what should be the ultimate test for the team leading into the second half of the season.
“We’ve beefed up our schedule. I’ve told the guys don’t get caught up in wins or losses, let’s play a little tougher schedule to make us better. When we run into games in the All “A” against Brossart, Paris or whoever, in the 38th with the Dontaie Allen’s and Pendleton, we’ve been in that situation before. We’re not gun shy or afraid of the bright lights,” Kelsch said.
The Saints are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The first bit of big news hit them when returning leading scorer Jake Swolsky decided to enroll at Mason County. Swolsky averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Saints as a sophomore.
“Jake has to do what’s best for him. I totally understand that and don’t take it personal. I wish him the best and think he’ll do fine. We’ll miss him, I honestly thought he could have been the best to come out of here. He did what he had to do and I support him and I’ll never try to hold one of my kids back. He’s still my kid, I might not be his coach this year, but I’ll still be his coach forever and he can come to me whenever he needs me,” Saints coach Aaron Rigdon said.
At certain points in Wednesday’s games, they featured five middle schoolers on the floor at the same time. The lone high school returnees in uniform were senior Pat McKay and junior Chandler Black. The number of returnees should increase come time the regular season rolls around, but things will look a lot different for the Saints, who graduated seven seniors, including three going off to play college ball in Ben Swolsky, Brevin Jones and Baylen Bauer.
“We’ve got some good leaders. Pat and Chandler will be our leaders this summer. I can mold these young guys the way I want. A lot of these kids are fresh here at St. Pat and it’s going to be a transition for them,” Rigdon said. “But they can play. In a couple years, they’re going to be really, really good.”
The summertime reps will be valuable for the middle schoolers used to playing against their age range from 12-14 year-olds compared to 15-17 year-olds at the high school level.
“The good thing is it doesn’t count. I can rotate lineups, put different kids in because I have a brand new team. I can mix things up and get an idea of who can do what because the score doesn’t matter,” Rigdon said. “Getting that court time and reps is everything right now.”
One thing most noticable in their game against the Black Devils, the young ones weren’t intimidated of the Black Devils front line that features a lot of size in Alex Schalch, Justin and Ross Becker.
“I need lions, not lambs, and I got lions right now. They’re young lions, they’re just cubs, but they’re not afraid. If I could ask any of them to put their team on their shoulders, they’re not going to run from it, they’re going to go out their and hit it hard,” Rigdon said.
On top of the summer series, the Saints will be playing at Rowan County, Fleming County and the high school state KBA Tournament, June 14-17.
The Panthers were led on the bench by assistants Jeff Crawford and Phil White on Wednesday as the administrations search for a coach plays out. The new coach whenever named will have some returning pieces to work with as four of their top six rotational players are expected back for the 2018-19 season. On top of the returning four in Stephen Cordle, Preston Philpot, Austin Eichenberger and Sam Appelman, Jushod Commodore got the start in the first game, an eighth grader that has created quite some buzz around Augusta with his potential.
As for the rest of the All “A” summer series schedule, June 6 games will be played at Augusta, June 13 at Nicholas County with things wrapping up on June 20 at Robertson County.