Elizabethtown has had quite the season so far, winning in the district and region finals, punching their ticket to the state tournament, and standing with a current record of 23-9 overall.
The Panthers squad have had a great support team behind them with the community proving to be a resource as well as a top coaching staff that helps push the team to their greatest heights.
The coaching staff, led by head coach James Haire, has been one of the most resilient in the region.
“There’s so much I could say about Coach Haire,” Elizabethtown senior guard JuJuan Williams said. “Coach Haire has always said this season that all we need to do is focus on ourselves. Everyone had Taylor County, Washington County, and LaRue to make it out of the region, not us. If it wasn’t for Coach Haire, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in right now.”
Elizabethtown was in top form as the season drew to a close, going 7-0 in postseason action to earn a spot at Rupp Arena and proving doubters wrong in the process.
A 76-67 win over Taylor County (24-7) in the last regular season game of the year helped propel the Panthers on a postseason run that included a win over John Hardin (3-26) in the second round of district play and a W against rival Central Hardin (19-14) in the district championship.
E’town then advanced to region tournament play, where it would defeat Adair County (23-10) in a slug fest, topple over Bardstown (12-16), and then get their revenge on LaRue County (23-8) in the region final, winning 55-44 after previously falling to the Hawks in the regular season.
A big reason for the Panthers’ winning ways this season has been team chemistry, something that has come a long way since the start of the year.
E’town’s roster underwent multiple changes this season, adding in four transfers in TaQuan Townsend, Obian Howard, and JuJuan and J’Quan Williams.
Integrating new faces into your team is always a tall task for any coach. Haire and his staff rose to the occasion and welcomed the additions with open arms.
“This is my first year at Elizabethtown,” Williams said. “Not a lot of coaches can get a bunch of new transfers in and still make the state tournament. Coach Haire has really done a lot for the team.”
“Transferring in was probably one of the best decisions I made,” Elizabethtown senior guard Obian Howard said. “Having a coach like Coach Haire and the reputation he has around the community was a big part of my decision.”
E’town’s defense is currently top 50 in the state, only allowing opponents to average 54.9 points a night. They also routinely win games by a significant amount, sitting 30th in Kentucky for victory margin leaders, winning games by an average of 11.6 points.
Along with the integration of the new faces, Haire and his staff also have helped elevate the play of junior Ayden Evans, making him a menace on both sides of the floor.
Evans has become a number one option for Elizabethtown this season, averaging 16.1 points per game on 62% shooting. He also averages around 10 rebounds a night, oftentimes throwing his 6’10” frame around to grab everything off the glass.
Off the bench, the Panthers have some solid pieces as well.
Senior Wyatt McAdams provides a gritty defensive mentality and a willingness to do the dirty work, followed by senior Tyler Todd and sophomore TaQuan Townsend, both of which possess the ability to knock down shots from anywhere.
To pair with the coaching staff, the community has come up big, the players say.
“The E’town community has really done a lot for us this season,” Elizabethtown senior JuJuan Williams said. “They’re the definition of people who have your back.”
The Elizabethtown community has been unwavering in its support of Panther athletics, a testament to the connection the area has with the school.
“I had some new kids into the team who didn’t know many in the community, and we were doing a fundraiser for the team to get some sponsorships,” Haire said. “I gave them all two names, they introduced themselves as E’town basketball players, and next thing you know, their sponsorships are done. I wanted to prove to them that there are people in this community, true fans, true supporters, that are just happy to support you just by saying that you are an E’town athlete.”
Since the district championship, Elizabethtown basketball have been treated to multiple catered dinners and constant sponsorship as well as continual vocal support and massive crowds for the entirety of the season.
“Ever since I’ve got here, it’s been nothing but love from the E’town community,” Howard said.
With the backing of Coach Haire and the community, Elizabethtown is brimming with confidence as they move toward Rupp Arena.
“I believe we can win it all,” Howard said. “I got us over anybody. Nobody expected us to come out of the region, but I believe we can do it. Coach Haire trusts us, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
They’ll start their toward a title this afternoon, facing 1st Region champions McCracken County (29-5) in the first round of the state tournament at Rupp Arena.
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