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SHEPHERDSVILLE -- ‘Practice hard and you get to play in the next game.’
Lots of high school basketball coaches give that statement lip service every season. For Bullitt Central head coach Joe Pat Lee, that credo will have extra meaning this winter.
After a season in which the Cougars had high expectations, but finished with a frustrating 8-19 mark that included a first round loss in the 24th District Tournament, Lee and his team have subdued expectations this season after losing pretty much every starter off last season’s team.
Bullitt Central has four seniors this season, but two of those were not even in the program last year.
“We are definitely in a rebuilding year,” Lee said before a practice last week. “We lost everything from last year to graduation. We really felt like this summer we were a junior-varsity team playing against varsity opponents.”
At this point, Lee is not using a permanent marker to designate his starting line-up.
“The good thing about losing everybody is that it means that every spot is up for grabs,” the coach pointed out.
Unlike some programs, Lee got a big infusion of talent when the football season ended. Four players competed for the successful Cougar gridiron team and then reported to their first basketball practice last Monday.
“Since we got the football players out, the practices have been awesome,” Lee noted. “The effort has been great. The last two practices have been as physical as any we’ve had here.”
The Cougars will need to be physical and aggressive on both ends of the floor. The team has some athletic talent, but there is a go-to force that can consistently put up 15 points a night.
“This will be a fun group to coach,” Lee said. “There are no attitudes and the best thing is that everyone we put out there loves to compete.”
Lee will have to judge this team on effort and intensity as much as winning and losing.
“Our skill level is not where it can carry us through games,” the coach said. “What we’ll hang our hat on is going out every night to fight. If they don’t go all out, there is a guy waiting to go in that can.
“With the make up of this team, that makes them fun to coach,” Lee noted. “They will battle you.”
Lee has between 12 and 15 players who he feels could step in and play in a varsity contest. While the depth is interesting, it also means that the top end guys have not separated themselves from the pack.
“The last couple of years we had kids who literally hated to lose and had passion for the game,” Lee pointed out. “With this group, we have five guys we can put out there and they will play with a passion. That will keep us in ball games.”
Bullitt Central returns only three players who saw any important minutes in varsity games last year. That group includes senior Jason Creason and juniors T.J. Flener and Mike Kean. Flener is the team’s leading returning scorer, but that is only seven points a game.
Flener suffered a thumb injury late in the football season, but he is back to full strength now.
“T.J. will really have to increase his level of play big time,” Lee said. “Not only that, but he has to increase his work ethic too.”
Another football player who had a late season injury was senior Jesse Vittitoe. He is cleared to play basketball now, but he still could need surgery on his knee at some point in the future.
Out front, Vittitoe and junior Travis Stepp are the top candidates to run the show for the Cougars.
Because they don’t have a lot of size, Lee is looking to use a three-guard line-up with a point guard and two wing type guards. The candidates for the outside spots are Flener and junior Cory Brown along with sophomore Miciah Ocasio.
The two front court positions are interchangeable. The leading candidates for playing time in those spots include Creason and Kean along with senior Dakota Masden and juniors Jeremaie Bennett and Jordan Peercy.
One player who could provide a lot of help to the Cougars down the road is senior Chris Taylor. He transferred to Bullitt Central from Spencer County after school had started and has not yet been cleared by the KHSAA to play. Lee expects the 6-2 forward to be eligible soon.
While this is by no means a tall team, this Cougar squad has more size than teams in the recent past.
“It’s the most size since I got here,” Lee said as he gets ready to start his fourth season at the helm. “It’s the most size and athletic ability since I got here.”
If noting else, this group will be fun to watch. The Cougars will press all over the floor, substitute freely and shot a lot of three pointers.
“It will be up and down,” Lee said of the team’s consistency. “It will just be that way with this team. Some night’s we’ll play well and other nights we’ll struggle.
“This will be one of the most fun teams I have been around,” the coach added. “People will enjoy watching this group. Everybody will see them give 110 percent for Bullitt Central basketball. That’s all we can ask as coaches of the kids.”
The Cougars will open the season on Tuesday at Holy Cross. Bullitt Central will not play at home until they host North Bullitt on Dec. 12. In fact, that will be the team’s only home game until Jan. 12.
2008-09 Bullitt Central Cougars
3: Jesse Vittitoe, 5-7, G, Sr.
21: Jason Creason, 6-3, G, Sr.
22: Chris Taylor, 6-2, F, Sr.
32: Dakota Masden, 6-2, F, Sr.
5: Jordan Peercy, 5-11, F, Jr.
12: Travis Stepp, 5-8, G, Jr.
23: T.J. Flener, 6-1, G, Jr.
24: Cory Brown, 5-11, G, Jr.
33: Jeremaie Bennett, 6-1, F, Jr.
40: Mike Kean, 6-3, F, Jr.
30: Miciah Ocasio, 5-11, G, So.
Head Coach - Joe Pat Lee (4th season)
Assistant Coaches - Shane Popplewell, Kyle Roach, Todd Spencer, Shawn Ryan