Young, inexperienced Patriots hope to improve in rebuilding season

Published 1:20 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2017

STANFORD — With four seniors gone from last year’s 23-10 team and two varsity players not returning, Lincoln County High School boys basketball coach Jeff Jackson knew his program was in for a little rebuilding.

And that is certainly the case this season, as the Patriots return about an average of 14 points to the floor after losing their top four scorers and starters. 

“We are awfully young and awfully inexperienced,” Jackson said. “We graduated four really, really good seniors. They were the winningest class. They were part of teams that won 93 games in four years. We have just one senior coming back in Chase Phillips. Riley (Bodner) has played a little bit and Blake (Smith) has played a little bit. We do have Bryson Yaden back. He played a lot as a freshman, then was out last year with a knee injury. Other than that there’s not a lot of experience.”

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The loss of so many experienced players has not gone unnoticed in the preseason polls.

“There are no expectations,” said Jackson. “Every poll we’ve seen does not have us in the top 10 in our region. And every poll we’ve seen has us fourth in our district. I don’t take a lot of stock in the polls you see, but The Cat’s Pause poll that come out had us not in the top 10 and that’s a poll that’s voted on by the coaches. Most people are expecting us to be in the strange, unfamiliar territory of rebuilding because we usually just continue to be respectable. We feel like we have a good program and are very competitive every year, but we lost a lot. Coaches feel like where we’ve lost so much we’re not going to be in the mix as far as the top teams in our district and region go.”

But fans shouldn’t expect to see a team down on itself when the Patriots take the floor. No, Jackson says the lack of expectation has been more of push than a put down.

“I think our kids have used that somewhat as a motivation to prove something,” he said. “We’re an unknown commodity because we did graduate so much. We’ve got so many younger kids that are going to be counted on to provide a lot of offense and defense for us. A lot of younger kids getting a lot of minutes. We just have to stay focused. We hope to continue to improve every day and be a pretty good team by the time the tournament rolls around in late February, a team that can compete with the other teams out there.”

Jackson, who begins his 12th season as coach, has 15 players on his varsity roster, with one senior, four juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen and one eighth-grader.
“Chase Phillips is our elder statesman. He’s had a great summer and worked really hard at his leadership skills and also at his game over the off season,” said Jackson. 

“The junior class is really good,” he added. “It had been almost 16 months since Bryson had been on the floor doing anything and he’s progressing nicely in his conditioning and getting back to the feel of the game. Darius Napier is playing and Sawyer Carrier, once he recovers from his finger injury, will be back with us. Blake’s doing really well and him and Bryson are helping Chase with a lot of leadership responsibilities with the young team, helping them to know their role on the team.” 
Phillips averaged 8.9 points per game last season in 33 games played and led the team in rebounding with 4.8 boards a game. Smith, who also played in 33 games as a sophomore, averaged 2.9 points per game and 1.3 rebounds.

With five from their class on the team, the sophomores outnumber all the other grades.

“Riley (6-7 center) has gotten a lot better. He still has a long way to go to be as good as he can be, but his conditionings better, he’s quicker and he’s gotten a lot stronger. He’s doing some good things on the floor,” said Jackson. “Elijah Frye’s had a great summer. He’s really worked hard this fall at his game. and he’s playing really well. He’s just a tough kid with a lot of energy. Bryston Alcorn and Damien Givens-Ford have really improved and are coming on. Preston Durham is out with us, first time he’s played with us as a sophomore. And Britton Taylor is a sophomore who transferred over from Boyle that is playing with us. He’s a really nice kid.”

Bodner averaged 1.3 rebounds per game last year in 17 games played.

And while not all the freshmen are currently on the varsity roster, Jackson says there’s no discounting the freshman class.

“The freshman class is good,” said Jackson. “Spencer Baird’s had a really good summer. He works really hard at his game and he was with us last year as an eighth-grader. Baylor Mattingly’s playing well, Rodney Alcorn is coming on, Blaise Brown’s another freshman that’s coming on. Then you’ve got Brady Weaver, Cade Jenkins, Jackson Ives, Michael Hendeson and Evan Smith that are also part of that freshman class. We’re excited about that group as well. There’s a lot of depth there and some kids that can do some different things.”

And rounding out the Lincoln roster is the youngster of the group, eighth-grader Jaxon Smith.

“Jaxon Smith has come over as an eighth-grader and is playing. He’s really got a huge upside and very, very bright future and we’re excited about him. He will play a lot on varsity as an eighth-grader,’ Jackson said. “We’ve always had really good point guard play ever since I’ve been here and we think Jaxon Smith is going to be next in line. He and Blake will play at the point. He’ll get a lot of playing time. A lot of younger players will get playing time, too.”

A prime example of just how young Lincoln could go on the floor was demonstrated during a practice segment Sunday when Jackson had Yaden (junior) at the 5, Frye (sophomore) and Baylor Mattingly (freshman) were also on the floor and Jaxon Smith (eighth-grade) and Blake Smith (junior) were in. 

“We’re going to play a lot of young kids in with the older kids. It’s going to take us a while and we’re going to go through some growing pains,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be an interesting process. We’ve told them we have to fall in love with the process of being great because it’s going to take us a while. But they’ve come in and worked very hard every day and their focus seems pretty good and Chase, Bryson and Blake are doing a really good job with the leadership part of it.”

Despite the youth of the Patriots, Jackson feels they bring a lot of talent and skills to the floor, and it’s that talent and skills that provide Lincoln it’s greatest strength – depth.

“Depth is definitely a strength. I think we have more players we feel comfortable playing in a varsity game than we have in the past,” he said. “Usually, we have six sometimes seven that we feel comfortable about playing. We feel like, right now, that there are eight kids that can be in the rotation. Plus when Sawyer comes back in healthy, Darius understands a little better what we’re doing. He hasn’t played since a freshman so it takes a while to adjust. And Damien and Bryston are showing signs of doing good things as sophomores.”

After Jackson expended on Lincoln’s team strength, he had to reach out to the other side and make note of the team’s weakness. 

“It’a defense. We have to get better defensively,” he said. “We’re not good in that area yet. Hopefully, we’ll get better as the season goes on, and we will. It’s just a lot of repetition in practice, game preparation and walk-throughs. I think we’ve gotten better and I think we’ll continue to get better.”

The Patriots’ season opener at Lafayette is just six days away, however, Jackson says he isn’t quite set on his starting five for the Nov. 28 tip.

“They’re penciled in right now,” he said. “There are eight kids we feel confident we can have out there in any situation at any time. We’re excited about that. There are kids that can guard a little bit better, there are kids that can score a little bit better. Bryson Yaden is steadily progressing and getting better. He’s got a lot of experience in football in being out there in big moments. It will take him a while to get his legs under him for as long as he’s been out. And Chase is doing really well. He’s our senior leader. Who starts all depends on game situations and what we need at that time.”

No matter which five go to mid court for Tuesday’s opening tip, Jackson said the team is just ready to get the season started.

“We need to play somebody else. They’ve played against each other everyday and beat up on each other and we’re ready to play somebody else,” said Jackson. “Lafayette is a tough team for a young team to open against, but we’re going to stay positive. We’re excited about the future of our team. We feel like we have a lot of pieces in place, we just need to get experience playing in big games. We’re not supposed to be very good according to the polls, but we hope to have ourselves in a position to compete and surprise people when tournament time rolls around.”

2017-18 Patriot Varsity
No. Name Ht. Grade
1 Bryston Alcorn 5-10 Soph.
2 Bryson Yaden 5-10 Jr.
3 Blake Smith 6-1 Jr.
4 Elijah Frye 5-10 Soph.
5 Damien Givens-Ford 5-10 Soph.
10 Jaxon Smith 5-10 8th
11 Chase Phillips 5-10 Sr.
12  Baylor Mattingly 6-1 Fr.
14 Blaise Brown 5-10 Fr.
15 Darius Napier 6-1  Jr.
21 Spencer Baird 6-1 Fr.
22 Sawyer Carrier 6-6 Jr.
32 Rodney Alcorn 6-1 Fr.
42 Preston Durham 6-3 Soph.
44 Riley Bodner 6-7 Soph.

Sophomores – Britton Taylor 5-9
Freshmen – Evan Smith 5-9, Cade Jenkins 5-9, Brady Weaver 5-11, Jackson Ives 6-2, Michael Henderson 6-2

Head Coach: Jeff Jackson
Assistant Coaches: Brad Petrey, Shawn Conley, Don Story
Support Staff: Hayden Grubbs, Kenny Goodin, Kyle Walls
Managers: Justin Blevins, TT Wilkinson, Jordan Miller, Tatum Newcomb