‘Survive and advance’ will be the key words for BE

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Boys’ Kentucky State Basketball Tournament

By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - Survive and advance. That has been Bullitt East’s mantra since the final week of the regular season when head coach Troy Barr started to use it with his talented team.

That final week saw tough games against Elizabethtown and DeSales. The Chargers won those games and that led into a successful post-season run that now has the red and gold riding a 15 game winning streak heading into this week PNC/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen Tournament in Lexington’s Rupp Arena.

Bullitt East (28-5) will open play on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Fifth Region champion Bardstown (24-4). The two teams did not meet during the regular season.

On Monday as Barr found a rare quiet moment to sit and talk, all he was focused on for the entire week was facing Bardstown. The Chargers are one of the favorites in this week’s big show, but the coach knows that you can’t win four games in a row unless you win the first one.

“I’m totally focused on Bardstown,” Barr said firmly. “That’s the number one goal. Bardstown is the only team we can play right now.”

The Chargers and Tigers have few things in common this season except that each played Elizabethtown and DeSales as well as Nelson County. One thing they do have in common is that they came together after getting major transfers into their program.

Obviously, Bullitt East has excelled with 6-8 sophomore Derek Willis in the fold after he transferred from Male. Bardstown relies even more on transfers including first-year head coach James ‘Boo’ Brewer who was an assistant at LaRue County the previous five seasons. He brought with him son Jordan Brewer and stepson Anthony Myrks, the Tigers’ second and third leading scorers.

Cody Edelen, a senior, is the leading scorer for the Tigers at 12 points a game while Brewer averages 11.8 points a game with Myrks at the 10.8 mark. Both Brewer and Myrks are juniors.

While Bullitt East and Bardstown have met just once in basketball over the past decade (a Charger win in the 2008 King of the Bluegrass tourney), Brewer and Myrks did play for the Tigers in a football game against Bullitt East back in August and both faced the Chargers when they played football at LaRue County.

“This team has jelled together since the Franklin-Simpson tournament over Christmas,” the Tiger head coach told The Kentucky Standard. “We have no selfish players on this team.”

While the two teams’ stats this season do look much the same, the two squads have many differences. Bardstown is quick and athletic while Bullitt East is powerful and tall with strong shooting. The Tigers use a lot of depth while Bullitt East goes a long time with the five starters.

Being the first game in ten days for the Chargers, the depth issue should not be a big concern. The five Bullitt East starters each average at least 8.3 points a game, led by the 18.3 of senior point guard Hayden Sweat. After those five, no other Charger player averages more than two points a contest.

Bardstown has ten players that average at least four points a game.

“The key for our team’s success is our defense and depth,” Brewer said. “We rely upon unselfish play and go to the hot hand of the game.”

In the Sixth Region Tournament, the five Bullitt East starters routinely played 27 or more minutes of the 32-minute contests.

Barr doesn’t plan to alter his rotation even with the prospect of the team playing four games in 50 hours.

“You can’t think that way,” the Charger coach said. “Right now it is just survive and advance. You just play that game and win and move on. That’s where our focus is.”

Bullitt East coaches saw Bardstown in person three times this season including their 62-55 win over Elizabethtown in the Fifth Region final. Barr also said that they were able to collect five videos on the Tigers.

“They have been well schooled,” Barr noted. “I’d say their number one strength is athleticism. They are long and athletic.”

Barr had to think a moment when asked if the Tigers remind him of any team that Bullitt East played during the season.

“They have some tendencies like Pleasure Ridge Park,” the coach said of the team that the Chargers beat in the Sixth Region final. “They are just about like any Sixth Region team. They love to score in transition. So they do some of the same things we saw night in and night out.”

Bullitt East’s top defensive stopper is sophomore Rusty Troutman and it is expected that he will draw the assignment on Brewer. The 6-4 guard was slowed the last two weeks of the season after teammate Corey Washburn fell on his foot, but that injury has improved with the long lay-off between games.

“The foot is good now. Tons better,” Troutman said. “I lost about half a step. I was pretty slow in the district (tournament).”

While none of the Bullitt East players has ever played in Rupp Arena or a state tournament game, Barr and assistant coach Junebug Rakes were with the last Bullitt East team to reach the state tournament in 2005.

“I think they know that I have been there and coach Rakes has been there,” Barr pointed out. “They can sense that we’ll be able to lead them through this. We’ve talked about Rupp and the media time-outs and it is an adjustment. Until you walk out there, they won’t understand it all.”

Winning and having fun will be one and the same starting Thursday.

“These kids enjoy playing with each other,” the coach concluded. “They are having fun. They want to keep advancing so they can play together again.”