By David Green
HAZARD – Perry County Central’s boys’ basketball coach will be coming back to a familiar place when the Commodores come to participate in this weekend’s Hoop Fest.
Allan Hatcher prowled the sidelines at Reed Conder Gymnasium on a regular basis when he was coach at Marshall County high for six years in the 1980s, taking the Marshals to First Region championships and on to the Sweet Sixteen four of those years.
Hatcher won 152 games and lost 36, an 80.9 percent winning percentage. The percentage is the best of the eight men who have led the Marshals. Hatcher was the winningest of all Marshals coaches until Gus Gillespie, with 162 wins, moved ahead of him last season.
His stint at Marshall County was, according to Hatcher, a great time in his long career, which has seen him accumulate nearly 700 victories as a high school head coach in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.
“Reed Conder (former superintendent and namesake of the MCHS gymnasium) gave me a chance to coach down there and I’ll never forget it,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher won a state championship with his Williamson, W.Va., High School team in 1983 before coming to Marshall County the next season.
He left Marshall County for a stint as an assistant coach in the collegiate ranks, including one year at Western Kentucky University, then went back to a high school head coach’s position in Portsmouth, Ohio, before returning to western Kentucky as head coach at Graves County High School in 1993.
This trip will be Hatcher’s second return to the First Region since he left for Perry County Central four years ago. His Perry County team defeated Union City, Tenn., 58-52 in the 2009 Hoop Fest.
From 1993 through the end of the 2006-2007 season, Hatcher took on a villain’s role as head coach of the rival Eagles from Graves County. But though the competition with the Marshals was fierce and sometimes fiery, it did not alter his fond memories of his time coaching the orange and white.
“It’s really mind-boggling, to be honest,” Hatcher said. “People there were so good to me and my family. I have nothing but positive memories of there. People were so supportive and so involved.”
Hatcher suggested that many places throughout the Commonwealth are jealous of the Marshall County community, or ought to be.
“I could not get over how together the community was, so supportive of the high school, the athletic teams, the academic programs, everything,” he said.
The Perry County Central team he will bring to this year’s Hoop Fest played in last year’s Sweet Sixteen as representative of the Fourteenth Region.
They lost in the first round to Wayne County 68-58. But the Commodores did not go away from Rupp Arena without making some big-time noise. Their brief tournament appearance was a Commonwealth-wide coming-out party for 5-foot-8 seventh grader Braxton Beverly, who came off the bench to score 23 points for Perry County.
It’s the only splash to be made by such a young player in recent years.
Beverly has grown to 5-10 over the summer and Hatcher is optimistic about his prospects as an eighth-grader and beyond.
“He’s gotten better and better and better,” Hatcher said. “He’s an old-school gym rat. He practices all the time.”
Also on the squad is 6-6, 235-pound junior Dalton Cornett, the second-leading scorer at 10 points per game on last year’s 25-6 team. That team graduated three seniors, including Dillon Cornett, Dalton’s brother, the team’s top scorer at 11.7 ppg, along with Dustin Brewer and Axl Sizemore.
The roster of returning players includes Kyle Huff, a 6-3 senior who played quarterback on the Commodores football team, Hatcher said. Austin Pray and Trevor Combs are other seniors Hatcher is counting on for leadership.
Perry County Central will play Beech High School of Hendersonville, Tenn., at 2 p.m. in the first Saturday session of the Hoop Fest.
In the preceding 12:30 game, Perry County Central’s girls’ team will play the host Lady Marshals.
“We’ve got one of the best girls’ teams in the state,” Hatcher said. Indeed, coach Randy Napier’s Lady Commodores were 27-4 last year, falling 42-40 to Butler in the first round of the girls’ Sweet Sixteen at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.
“We’re all coming down on one bus and we’re looking forward to having a great time at the Hoop Fest,” Hatcher said.