DRAFFENVILLE – Some things about the approaching basketball season are obvious, such as the satisfaction last year’s First Region championship and two-game run in the Sweet Sixteen brought to coach Gus Gillespie and Marshall County’s fans.
The loss to graduation of Stephen Atkinson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, is also readily apparent even to most casual observers.
But it’s not only Atkinson that the Marshals are going to miss this year, Gillespie says.
“The senior leadership that I had last year, they’re going to be tough to replace,” Gillespie said, referring to swingman Atkinson, point guard Blake Clark and frontcourt players Colby Wiseman and Drew Williams, all of whom started or saw action in more than 30 games.
“Those four guys, between them, took 39 charges last year,” Gillespie said. “That shows dedication on defense and unselfishness. I don’t know who’s going to replace that. This group will probably hear that story about 390 times. It’s already been brought up.”
Another senior, Jeffrey Bailey, also graduated, further depleting the Marshals’ frontline.
Wiseman and Williams provided a toughness on defense and in rebounding that contributed mightily to the team’s 28-7 record.
“I’m concerned about losing that toughness,” Gillespie said.
Despite the concerns, Marshall County is the odds-on First Region favorite.
Six seniors will comprise the heart of this year’s team as the Marshals prepare to defend their region championship.
“They’re soft-spoken but competitive,” Gillespie said. “They want to win. They try to win every sprint in practice, and the young kids pick up on that. They see that they have to put forth effort.
“There may well be times this year when we draw straws as to who starts.”
One position not up for grabs is point guard. Cole Nelson nailed down that spot last year as a junior and is the top scorer (10.1 points) and rebounder (4.1) returning from last year.
“Cole is the player right now that I thought he would be,” Gillespie said. “This summer he worked harder, probably, than anyone. Any time you bring back your point guard, it’s a luxury, especially with the skill he has.”
Nelson, 6-3, generally considered one of the top players in the region, has a point guard’s mentality and understanding of the game, Gillespie said.
“I think Cole would rather make a nice pass than score,” he said. “But Cole’s going to score for us, and he has to score for us if we’re going to be successful.”
Guards Chase York (6-0) and Peter Northcutt (5-10) saw plenty of playing time last year, either as starters or coming off the bench. Northcutt was a 40-percent shooter from three-point range.
Other seniors on the roster include forwards Chase Buchanan (6-0), Logan Taylor (5-11) and Tanner Jessup (5-10).
Juniors Chase Clark (6-2 forward) and Noah Steele (5-11 guard) bring a measure of experience.
Sophomores Austin Spicer (6-2), Dalton Greenfield (6-3) and Austin Rentfrow (6-5) will provide most of the team’s size. All three gained some varsity experience last year as freshmen.
The Marshals are the odds-on pickGillespie says he is approaching this season exactly the same as his18 previous ones, the last eight at Marshall County.
“Every year your goal is to be playing good basketball in February and March,” he said. “Every year I’ve been at Marshall County, we’ve been doing that. But you need a break to get it done. [Last season] we stayed healthy, we hit some big shots. There’s nothing different this year. We’ll prepare for a long journey.”
About one thing, Gillespie has no worries.
“We’re looking forward to this season from the standpoint that we’re going to have fun at every practice,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s fun to be around.”
The Marshals will scrimmage at Muhlenberg County the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and will host defending state champion Christian County in another pre-season encounter the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday.
They travel to Ballard Memorial to open the season Tuesday, Nov. 29.
A 29-game schedule includes four tournaments – the annual Hoop Fest and Gunner’s Magic Train Shootout at Reed Conder Gymnasium plus the Hancock Bank/Brand 40 Classic at Madisonville and Gateway Holiday Classic at Mt. Sterling, hosted by Montgomery County High School.