BOYS' SWEET 16: Bulldogs returning talent next season (3/10)

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By Chuck Jones

LEXINGTON — After John Hardin’s 66-57 loss to Montgomery County in the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, junior guard Keon Williams posed a simple, but challenging question to his teammates.

If the Bulldogs are going to get back to the state tournament for a third consecutive year, Williams made a heart-felt plea to his teammates.

“How bad do you want it?” Williams said. “How bad do you want to get here again? Next season starts now. Our goal is to be back here next season but we have to work for it. I think we can be back here, but it takes a lot of hard work.”

The returning Bulldogs know that first hand. This year’s seniors – namely Brandon Price and Daveon Greene – pushed the team after last year’s loss to Scott County in the state quarterfinals to make a return trip.

“I knew after losing last year we’d be back because of our seniors,” Williams said. “They worked so hard and put in the hours in the gym to get better. They pushed us to make us play even harder and work even harder. We know what it takes. Now it’s up to us. How bad do we want it?”

Junior guard Patrick Anderson and Williams spearhead the list of returnees. Both showcased what they could do during the state tournament. Williams scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 79-69 victory over Fleming County in the first round, while Anderson made 7-of-11 shots, including going 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, to score a team-high 19 points in the loss to Montgomery County.

Also returning are sophomore guard Elijah Smith and freshman guard Matt Miller, who both came off the bench this season. The key will be developing post players with the losses of Greene, Ricky Burns and Adryan Jackson. Juniors Dimitri Cooper and Marcus Goree figure to be the leading candidates.

The team graduates its top two scorers in Price and Greene, who both scored more than 17 points per game. Williams, Anderson, Smith and Miller combined for more than 33 points a game this season with Williams and Anderson both averaging more than 10 a game.

“We do return some talent, but do they have the mentality and work ethic that these seniors had?” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “I don’t know. Do they have that no-quit attitude? It’s all going to depend on how hard they work. We should have a good future, but we have to keep working.”

The Bulldogs should enter next season as one of the 5th Region favorites. Elizabethtown returns all but one starter and North Hardin should be a threat. Outside the 17th District, Bardstown is always in the hunt, while Taylor County and Adair County return young talent.

John Hardin will try to become only the second team to win three consecutive 5th Region titles since its current alignment in 1966. North Hardin accomplished the feat from 2001-03.

“No doubt John Hardin has grown,” Anderson said. “You look at guys like Malcolm (Foster), Jeremy (Harness) and Brandon (Price) and see what they’ve started. We want to keep that winning tradition going. We want to keep it up.

“This motivates us even more to get back here,” he added. “We don’t want to have this feeling again next year. We have to get back in the gym and starting working ASAP.”

Although the seniors were the driving force behind this year’s team, Miller is confident new leaders will emerge.

“I think this gives us a lot of motivation,” he said. “We have four or five players back that played here this year and we’ll have new players step up. Patrick and Keon will push us a lot. It’s sad to see the seniors go, but we have guys like Patrick and Keon who will push us to get back to this spot. We all know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we want to get here again.”

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