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HEBRON ESTATES - Veteran North Bullitt basketball coach Lee Barger will be the first to admit that very few nights this winter will his squad be able to step on the floor and beat an opponent on talent alone.
That was the case last season and the Eagles struggled to finish with a 4-22 record. The post-season never got going for the green and gold as they lost n the first round of he 29h District Tournament.
Unfortunately, little has changed for North Bullitt this season. The team is undersized. In fact, Barger’s roster of 19 players lists only two who are 6-foot or taller and both of those players are just 6-1. That news is tough to overcome for any team playing in the always tough Sixth Region.
Amazingly, those two 6-1 players are guards.
“We’ve had some really good days and days we weren’t as pleased with,” Barger said early last week. “That’s to be expected.”
Without athletes, the Eagles will need to make up for it with preparation and determination.
“The whole key for us is that we have to be competitive every minute of every game,” the said as he prepares to start his eighth season at the helm of the Eagles. “We don’t have size. We struggled last year to win four games.
“We have to have more pride in ourselves and show more character to have a chance to win at the end,” the coach added. “We just don’t have a lot of talent.”
Barger isn’t big on scheduling games just to get some easy victories.
“Our schedule is tough,” he pointed out. “Last year it was tough. It will be as tough or even tougher than last year. It is tough and competitive. I believe in playing good people.”
The Eagles have already been slowed in the pre-season when the team’s leading returning player, senior Travis Ridley, was out because of a broken hand suffered in the last football game. He just started practicing again last Monday.
North Bullitt also failed to gain any confidence from the first scrimmage of the season when they were handled by defending Eighth Region champion Anderson County.
“They are working to get back to the state tournament,” Barger said. “They really took advantage of us inside. We learned a lot about what we need to work on.”
Barger is preaching three keys to the team finding some success this winter.
“First off, we have t limit turnovers,” the coach said. “Those killed us last year.
“Next, is rebounding,” Barger added. “We will have to find a way to rebound.
“Third, we have to take good shots and we want to force other teams to take bad shots,” the coach noted. “If we do those things we’ll stay in games.”
At this point, Barger would like to have a rotation of eight to ten players for most games, but at this point there have not been enough players who have separated themselves from the pack.
“We haven’t set a rotation,” the coach pointed out. “We would like to play eight to ten kids. That not set. We’re iffy on one or two right now.”
Barger just feels that his team will need to see success to be successful.
“We haven’t won here the last few years,” the coach said. “We have turned up the pressure with higher expectations. They can’t get down if we get behind. They have to keep fighting. It’s tough to get back over that hump.”
At this point, Barger is going to put the ball into the hands of junior Tony Majors as the point guard. Majors saw some action a year ago including in some bigger games.
Because of the size woes, the green and gold will be using guard-heavy line-ups with a number of players on the wings. The top outside shooter is sophomore Brandon Goeing and he will take one of the guard spots. The third and fourth guard slots will go to seniors James Whitfill, Ridley or Kenton Aubrey.
The one player in the post will be either Aubrey or senior James Sutton who at 5-10 will have to try and guard players perhaps a foot taller this season.
“Because Travis has been out we’re not sure how he will fit in just yet,” Barger said.
The coach says that Sutton is the only player who won’t play in one of the four guard slots.
The North Bullitt staff is also looking at a pair of transfers to help with depth. One is sophomore Jared Slaughter who came from Shelby County. His father played for the Eagles. The other new player is junior Derrick Bell.
Other varsity players who will get a shot at playing time include juniors Cody Montgomery and Blake Hardy along with sophomore Ryan Collins.
Aubrey and Hardy are the two North Bullitt players who stand 6-1.
“Aubrey is our best rebounder,” the coach said. “He has matured as a person and a player. We’ll rely on him to rebound and I’ve preached to Cody Montgomery and Jason Sutton that they have to rebound.”
“We’re working as hard as ever,” Barger said. “We want to improve and show we can be competitive. We’re doing everything possible.”
Barger had 60 players attempt to make the team and he kept 29 players. At this point, the coach doesn’t expect any of the freshmen to step up and help the varsity like Goeing did last season.
North Bullitt did have a change in its coaching staff this season when long-time assistant coach John Hunt left the program. Barger elevated freshman coach Brian Courtney to the top assistant’s post and he will work with the junior-varsity squad.
The new freshman coach is Corey Craddock who is teaching at North Bullitt. The program also continues to get volunteer help from Casey Bannon and John Hardwick, the middle school coaches at Zoneton and Hebron, respectively.
The green and gold will once again have a tall mountain to climb in terms of being competitive in the 24th District race.
“We hope we can compete better with those teams,” the coach said. “I was embarrassed against Bullitt East least year in that 85-35 game and then the loss to Bullitt Central in the district tournament.”
Barger is looking for bigger things than last year.
“I have renewed focus,” he said. “It was tough last year losing my mother a few months before the season started and then our point guard transferred just before practice began. I think we can compete against the district foes.”
North Bullitt will not open the season early this week like most other teams. The Eagles will wait to open the season on the road this Friday when they take on Collegiate. A night later they will be traveling again as they will take on Washington County.
The Eagles will open the season at home on Friday, Dec. 11 when they host district favorite Fairdale.
North Bullitt will also host a tournament for the first time in a number of years. Eight teams, including Bullitt Central, will take part in the Sarah Barger Memorial Christmas Tournament Dec. 21-23.