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The importance of guard play in the postseason can’t be underestimated. Good guard play is a must to reach the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament and it is a prerequisite to make the Sweet 16.
That’s why the John Hardin Bulldogs, who are riding a 17-game winning streak, are the favorite heading into this week’s region tournament. Their guard play sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
Other teams have great guards, don’t get me wrong. LaRue County has a dynamic guard in Kelton Ford. Bardstown has Devonte Grundy, an explosive scorer, and L.J. Cowherd, an emerging point guard. Taylor County has youngster Quentin Goodin at point and Bethlehem has seasoned-veteran Jordan Cooper.
But no team can match John Hardin’s collection of guards. Not even North Hardin, which has a talented cast in seniors Ruben Gosa, Nick Lewis, Scotty Sterusky and Tyronn King.
John Hardin’s depth at guard is the reason the Bulldogs were cutting down the nets after winning their second consecutive Boys’ 17th District Tournament championship with an 83-74 victory over North Hardin.
“It’s a great luxury to have,” John Hardin junior guard Patrick Anderson said. “We have two or three point guards, so if someone needs a break or is in foul trouble, we don’t miss a beat.”
It starts with senior Brandon Price, who scored 41 points and dished out 14 assists in the district tournament. He would have been the consensus MVP if the award was given at the conclusion of the tournament. He’s a dynamic playmaker who can create his own shot or one for a teammate with his ability to penetrate. Simply put, Price is the best point guard in the region.
Price’s backcourt mate – Anderson – is a good point guard in his own right, but he doesn’t have to do it much with Price in the mix. Anderson, who missed most of last season with an injury, is not only a scoring threat, but the team’s best defender.
If Price or Anderson needs a break, John Hardin coach Mark Wells can turn to sophomore Elijah Smith or freshman Matt Miller. Both can provide instant offense. Smith scored 11 points to spark the Bulldogs past Elizabethtown in the semifinals, while Miller had nine points in the championship.
Throw in swingman Keon Williams, who shoots like a guard, but has the ability to play inside, and there’s no debate which team has the best guards.
“I haven’t had, from top to bottom, the caliber we do this year,” Wells said.
Wells has the ability to shuffle in guards, keeping them fresh to play at John Hardin’s frantic pace. For instance, after a break Friday night, Anderson scored eight points in a crucial second quarter outburst that saw the Bulldogs turn a five-point deficit into a 37-29 lead. Miller scored seven of his nine points in the third quarter to help the Bulldogs blow the game open.
“It makes us real good because we don’t have to rely on one person,” Smith said. “Everyone contributes. It’s good for Matt because he already has played in a district championship game. That helped build my confidence last year.”
What also builds confidence is going against one another in practice every day. What is more beneficial for young guards to go against a three-year starter like Price every day?
“We go at it in practice,” Price said. “You would not know we were teammates. In practice, that’s where it all starts. That makes us better guards. We can all make plays. What separates us is we’re all unselfish.”
It’s their ability to share the basketball – and the spotlight – that has the Bulldogs three wins away from returning to the state tournament. If they do, it will certainly be their guard play that takes them there.
“It’s a good thing to have so many good guards,” Anderson said. “One of us might have a bad game, but not all of us are going to have one on the same night.”
That’s why the Bulldogs like their chances this week in the region tournament.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.