BOYS' SWEET 16 BASKETBALL: John Hardin has shown it is ALL HEART (03/07)

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By Chuck Jones

Talent alone is not a winning component. Talent can take teams so far, but it doesn’t guarantee success. To achieve bigger goals and dreams, teams need other facets.

One of those facets is an intangible for successful teams called heart. It can’t be measured or quantified. There is no way of knowing if a team has it or not unless it is pushed to the brink.

The John Hardin Bulldogs have stared certain defeat in the face on a couple of occasions, but they find a way to big a little deeper for that extra incentive. They displayed heart, which sets champions apart from good teams.

In an early season game, John Hardin trailed at Bardstown by 12 with less than 5 minutes. Senior point guard Brandon Price and junior guard Patrick Anderson combined for 23 consecutive points to will the Bulldogs to a 76-71 victory Dec. 7.

More than a month later, the Bulldogs found themselves in an 11-point hole at Elizabethtown in the third quarter and the Panthers led 54-47 with less than 3 minutes to go. But John Hardin scored eight points in 34 seconds to send the game to overtime and eventually pull out a 68-65 win.

Those are two examples of John Hardin’s heart. In games decided by five or fewer points, the Bulldogs are 6-1, with the 52-51 setback to Cincinnati Princeton on Dec. 29 being their last loss since reeling off 20 consecutive victories.

John Hardin senior Daveon Greene doesn’t know how to explain it.

“I’m always asking myself that question,” Greene said. “Last year we had a team that accepted their roles, but we’re more and more of a family this year. We don’t give up, even when we’re down in the second half. We have great heart.”

Basketball is a team sport built on one-on-one matchups. Logic suggests that the more good players a team has, the better its chances of winning. But it’s simply not that easy.

“I know we’ve come a long way as a team,” John Hardin junior Patrick Anderson said. “We’ve improved a lot, especially with basketball plays. I mean the hustle plays like diving for loose balls and things like that. That’s helped us a lot, making those types of plays.”

Price is the heart and soul of the Bulldogs. The 5-foot-7 Price isn’t the biggest guy on the floor, but the size of his heart isn’t included in that measurement. He is mild mannered and perfectly polite. He looks people in the eye when he talks and often flashes an ear-to-ear grin.

On the basketball court, Price has an edge. He drives in the lane against much bigger guys, playing fearlessly through the contact. He doesn’t like to lose, no matter if it’s a game or a drill in practice.

People call it different things. Determination. Desire. Heart.

“It starts with our point guard (Price),” Greene said. “He’s going to take over and do whatever we need. We follow his lead.”

John Hardin coach Mark Wells said Price is the perfect example of a team leader. Price, who averages 17.9 points per game, could probably score more, but he’s willing to sacrifice for the team. He also involves his teammates as evidenced by his team-best 6.1 assists a game.

That has rubbed off on other players from the starters – Greene, Anderson, junior guard Keon Williams and senior forward Ricky Burns – to the Bulldogs who come off the bench like senior forward Adryan Jackson, sophomore guard Elijah Smith and freshman guard Matt Miller.

“As a player, I just try to do everything I can to help my team win,” Jackson said. “I’m going to hustle and get rebounds. My job isn’t to be a scorer. We have Brandon and Daveon. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help the team.”

Wells said each player has bought into that philosophy. That was a concern prior to the season because the Bulldogs returned so much talent from last season’s state tournament team.

“This group has a will to win,” Wells said. “We talked about putting yourself to the side. You need to worry about the team, not yourself. It sounds so elementary. But they’ve really bought into it. I think they’ve been able to do that because they get along so well.”

Chemistry is a key ingredient in any championship team, but it’s becoming more challenging for teams to develop it in a day and age of instant gratification.

“The unselfishness is what has made us a good team,” Price said. “We all like each other and want each other to do well. That’s very rare. I’ve never played on a team that makes so many unselfish plays. People will pass up shots to get a better one. Everyone just wants to get a win.”

Never was that more evident than the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament. Two of their top four scorers – Williams and Anderson – weren’t concerned with offensive stats but with their defense, guarding such standouts as Bardstown’s Devonte Grundy, LaRue County’s Kelton Ford and North Hardin’s Ruben Gosa.

“Everyone is willing to sacrifice for the team,” Greene said. “The past two weeks, Patrick and Keon have sacrificed a lot. Patrick is one of our primary scorers, but he had to guard Ford and Gosa in back-to-back games. He wasn’t worried about his offense. He knew that part would come. It’s why we’re in the position we are.”

The next step for the Bulldogs is the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament. They reached the state quarterfinals last year and want to go deeper this season. The Bulldogs (28-3) play Fleming County (28-6) at 1:30 p.m. today at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

The Bulldogs have plenty of talent to make a deep run. They have talented guards and physical post presence in Greene. They play relentless defense, pressuring the ball from baseline to baseline.

More importantly than the physical tools, John Hardin has the heart of a champion.

“We know the blueprint for success,” Williams said. “We’ve had ups and downs. There have been hard times. We had to figure out our roles. With what we’ve been through as a team, we know how to get the job done at the end. That’s a credit to the coaching staff and the players we have. I don’t know if that’s heart, but if it is, this team has a lot of it.”

Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com