MOREHEAD – It’s been 10 years since Rowan County’s boys basketball team has lost more than it won (11-17, 2008-09).
It’s been five years since someone other than the Vikings has been the 61st District champion (Fleming County, 2014).
And it’s been eight years since the 2010-11 season, when Rowan County was the state runner-up after suffering a heart-hurting 65-63 loss to Christian County.
So, what does all that have to do with the 2019-20 season? It means that if you don’t think the Vikings are the overwhelming favorite to win the district and contend to dethrone 2019 region champion Ashland, you haven’t been paying attention.
“I feel like, with four returning starters and with the success of last year’s team, I feel like we have a great opportunity in front of us to be able
to do that,” said coach Shawn Thacker. “It’s not gonna be given to us by any stretch of the imagination.”
Thacker is understandably confident — especially since junior Mason Moore returns.
“We just want to keep progressing,” Moore said. “Last year, we had a really good season; nobody expected us to have that good of a season.”
Yet Rowan County did — the Vikings finished 26-6 with an 81.3 winning percentage.
Thacker promises a significantly speedier offense this year.
“We were kinda slow last year at times; we were methodical,” Thacker said. “I think (Ashland coach Jason) Mays, when I went over to play him, he said, ‘I don’t think I could play the way you play,’ so methodically. This year’s team, with the experience back, I think we’re gonna be better defensively; I think we already are making strides in that area, great strides.
“Every year we adjust to what we have. More depth allows you to do more things.”
Whatever the Vikings do will depend a lot on Moore. He led the team with 20.2 points a game, made 87.1% of his free throws and had 7.8 rebounds a game.
You may know Moore when he throws a baseball. It’s a logical assumption because he compiles a 9-2 record with a 1.17 earned run average with 83 strikeouts and just nine walks.
“It’s a little bit of a struggle with everything going on,” Moore said. “I just want to try and focus on basketball, and then later, in January, February start focusing on baseball a little bit.”
Senior Devin Davidson finished his football career with 281 rushing yards, 151 receiving and 56 tackles. He said being one of the stronger basketball players is a transferable skill, especially when he has to guard forwards and centers.
When Rowan County needs a rebound, they’ll count on Moore and Davidson — a sound strategy because they averaged 7.8 and 4.4 a game, respectively.
“I’m a really good playhard rebounder,” Davidson said.
Davidson also offers a self-critique. “I don’t care to get physical with people, but sometimes I need to get better with my ball-handling and making better decisions with the ball.”
Defenders might have stress dreams about defending Moore, but Moore said he needs to more sharply focus his shoulders, elbows, fingernails, kneecaps and all 10 toes on stopping his opponents.
“The one thing I want to work on is probably my defense, staying lower,” Moore said. “Coach Thacker told me I’m gonna have to step up on my defense to help us win more games.”
When you talk about Rowan County’s starting five, Thacker said Moore and Davidson are a good place to begin. Thacker remembers a 70-61 win over Boyd County on Dec. 15 — the night Moore scored 23 points and Davidson averaged (10.8 points a game) added 22.
“Devin kinda had his breakout game against Boyd County,” Thacker remembered. “Defensively, we’re expecting both of these guys to step up and really improve.”
Moore and Davidson also averaged 87.1% and 80.9% from the free-throw line, respectively.
Senior Will Cox is the point guard, and sophomore Chase Alderman can play both forward and guard. Alderman did something that halted the proceedings Nov. 8 quicker than rush hour traffic on Flemingsburg Road on a Friday.
“He drove down the lane … in practice and kinda shocked us all,” Thacker remembered. “He jumped on two feet and just threw one down. We had to chew everybody out because you’ve gotta get used to this.”
Thacker said seniors Kellen Tabor (a goalie on the soccer team) and Dakota Caudill should add rebounding. It’s Caudill’s first season of varsity basketball.
“(Tabor) had a really good summer for us, did a really good job rebounding the basketball,” Thacker said. “Dakota Caudill, he’s a young senior that you probably won’t know a whole lot about, but he’s long, he’s athletic. If we play a little bit faster, he’s probably gonna play into that just a little bit.”
Senior Tyler Gamble, who stands 6-foot-7, is the likely starter at center.
“(He) had a broken toe in the preseason; we’re just getting him back out on the floor,” Thacker said. “Hopefully he can bring some things to the table for us, especially when we’re playing our zone.”
Fellow senior Ray Sturgill is a second option at center, and juniors Dilan Maxey, Nathan Goodpaster and Bradley Gardner should see time at guard.
Thacker also wants you to notice the extra bands or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human body that can contract and produce movement or maintain the position of body parts.
In two words: more muscle.
“One thing you’ll notice about our kids when you see us walk out on the court in our jerseys, you’re gonna see a group of kids that have gotten a lot stronger; we have put some good weight on these kids,” Thacker said. “I think Mason (Moore) would be an example — he’s put on 15, 20 pounds of muscle here in the 12 weeks of the weightlifting that we’ve been doing.”
Rowan County doesn’t have an easy early schedule: two-time defending 10th Region champion Campbell County (Dec. 5 in Alexandria); Sixth Region champion Louisville Butler (Dec. 20 at the Kentucky Bank Challenge in Morehead); and the Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout Dec. 27-31 in Freeport, Florida.
Thacker’s attitude: confident but cautionary.
“I’m sure I approved everything,” Thacker said. “ … We had some starters back, we feel like we needed to challenge these kids. Our record in December may not be very good and we may be playing very good basketball. They’ll kinda put our nose to the grindstone and make us better.”