DRAFFENVILLE – After three years of enjoying top-gun status in the First Region, it’s going to be different this year for Marshall County’s players and its fans.
“Kind of a rebuilding year,” is how coach Gus Gillespie describes his 10th season at the helm of the Marshals.
“When you look at the last four years, we’ve won – what, 105, 106 games [actually 109, versus 28 losses]?” Gillespie said. “We’ve had a lot of success, won 90-something games the last three years [87, including a school-record 32-3 season in 2012].”
All that, Gillespie noted, despite a regular series of losses of important players to graduation.
“Any time you have a run like that, there’s going to be a time period where there’s a big change, and this is the year,” he said. “We’re gonna have a lot of new names and new faces playing varsity basketball.”
All that, Gillespie noted, at a time when the Jackson Purchase will be filled with exceptionally talented and experienced teams, led by last year’s region tourney finalists, Graves County and Calloway County.
“It might be as strong as it’s been since I’ve been at this high school,” Gillespie said.
The Marshals will have to rely on some young and inexperienced players, and Gillespie is counting on some of those players to develop into contributors.
He will build around 6-7 senior center Austin Rentfrow, who will be a third-year starter and who is considered one of the top players in the region.
Rentfrow averaged 13.9 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds last year.
“Every year your roles change in high school,” Gillespie said of his big man. “He’s played around some very good players. Obviously it’s going to change dramatically this year with the number of things he’s going to have to do right for us every night for us to have a chance to win a basketball game.
“I think he understands that. His numbers are going to have to improve scoring-wise and rebounding-wise, but maybe the most important statistic that we need from Austin is him on the floor and not in foul trouble.”
Other seniors are point guard Landon Taylor and shooting guard Drew Warnick. Junior Mason Wooten brings a considerable amount of varsity experience and D.J. Pigg showed an excellent long-range shooting touch as a freshman last year.
“I think all those guys need to step it up and increase their productivity on the floor,” Gillespie said of those four players.
The remainder of the roster is made up of players who have very little or no varsity experience, but Gillespie is optimistic.
“We’re looking to extend our bench and we’ve got guys playing hard every day in practice,” he said. “You’ve got to play with more than seven guys.”
Gillespie named Collin Gunn, Dawson Jolley, Carson Beckett and Colton Lampley among backcourt players along with 6-6 Matthew Krone, 6-4 Collin Travis, 6-3 Hunter Harvey, 6-2 Blake Sandlin and 6-0 Travis English in the frontcourt among those whose contributions will be needed.
“We’re going to have to rely on some sophomores, some juniors that don’t have varsity experience,” he said. “We might have to dip down and play freshmen.”
The Marshals will have to perform efficiently, Gillespie said.
“We’ve got to pick our spots, try to keep teams off balance,” he said. “I think the key to our season is, can we defend at the varsity level and stop people?”
The season opens Dec. 3 at Ballard Memorial, followed later that week by the 18th annual Marshall County Hoop Fest at Reed Conder Gymnasium.
Marshall County will play Dyersburg, Tenn., and Carbondale, Ill., in two games in the three-night, 19-game extravaganza.