It’s almost like they’ve never been there before.
Danville has made three straight appearances in the All “A” Classic and reached the quarterfinals last year, but that might as well be ancient history to the Admirals who will return to the small-school tournament.
With a new coach and a mostly new group of key players, the Admirals said things won’t be the same this year.
“We’ve got a new team, new coach, everything’s new,” Danville guard Christian Gateskill-Fuqua said. “It’s definitely going to be a new experience.”
Danville coach Andrew Zaheri will get his first exposure to the All “A” when the Admirals face DeSales in a first-round game Thursday night at Frankfort Convention Center. But he said thinks the fact that Danville has succeeded there before helps his team — even if most of his players had little to do with that success.
“I think it does because it shows them that we can compete at that level,” Zaheri said. “But just like the other state tournament, until you get your kids on that floor and in that atmosphere, you almost don’t know what to expect. But I feel like these kids have at least been around it enough so that they won’t be completely shocked.”
Point guard Tryston Ford is the only starter who remains from the Danville team that went 2-1 at last year’s All “A,” while Gateskill-Fuqua and others who were in supporting roles last season are eager for their turn in the small-school spotlight.
“Besides Tryston, everyone’s kind of new to this. So it’s exciting to step up and feel like you’re actually doing something for Danville basketball,” Gateskill-Fuqua said. “But it’ll be different when we walk in there on (Thursday).”
Danville (7-10) has won four of its last five games, including the two that gave the Admirals their fourth consecutive 12th Region All “A” Classic championship last week.
Because Zaheri is new to the All “A,” he asked his players to take the lead in last week’s regional.
“He’s basically said this is our tournament. We’ve been on the teams that have been winning the last three years. This is us, and if we want this to continue to be a Danville thing, go out there and get it,” Gateskill-Fuqua said.
The Admirals’ first-year coach said doing that four years in a row should count for something.
“I think when you start doing things like and you’re not just a one-hit wonder but kind of make it a little bit of a tradition, I think you do get a little swagger, and that’s important, and I definitely think that’s a positive,”¿Zaheri said.
DeSales (9-10), the 6th Region representative, shouldn’t lack for swagger, either, The Colts have reached the All “A”¿championship game in each of the last two seasons, although they lost on both occasions. Last year, they lost the title game to the same Betsy Layne team that eliminated Danville in the semifinals.
DeSales lost six seniors from that team, then lost seven of its first 10 games this season before rebounding to win six of its last eight.
“I¿know they’re very competitive,” Zaheri said. “They’re in a really tough region, so people on the outside looking in may think that they don’t have the strongest record, but you’re playing against really athletic, talented teams.”
The Colts have two players averaging in double figures in senior center Evan Bingham and senior guard Duncan Cameron, both of whom are scoring about 13 points per game. Bingham also averaged about seven rebounds.
“(They)¿pass the ball very well. They will get out and press you, so we’re going to have to get to work and take care of what we have to take care of,”¿Zaheri said.
The Admirals said they’re looking forward to playing in front of a larger crowd than they usually see.
“The crowd helps, because it’s a way bigger crowd than we’ve got at home,” Ford said.
“I’m looking forward to the crowd. It’s going to be crazy,” forward Damir Karapandzic added. “Hopefully the whole town comes out and watches us.”
Karapandzic said he also hopes fans get a chance to watch Danville more than once.
“I believe that we have a really good shot of playing Sunday,” he said.
But Zaheri said he hopes the Admirals can continue their affinity for staying focused on what’s in front of them.
“The one thing I can say about this team and the way we try to handle it is we really do things one game at a time, and I just think that’s the best way to handle anything,” he said. “We never really look ahead until we get that game accomplished, so even though we do have a big tournament in the middle of the season, we’re still going to handle it one game at a time, and Thursday night’s the first game.”
Zaheri may be new to the All “A,” but he was an assistant coach with a Rowan County team that made the Boys Sweet Sixteen in each of the last two years and reached the finals last year.
“I’m hoping that my experience with the state tournament last year will help because it’s basically the same layout,”¿he said.
As for this tournament, he has learned a few things from his boss at Rowan, Shawn Thacker, who made eight straight trips to the All “A” and won one title while at Somerset.
“He really loved it, just loved the experience, and it’s something that the kids really enjoy, and I’m looking forward to it,” Zaheri said.
Boys All “A” Classic
At Frankfort Convention Center, Frankfort
Thursday, Jan. 26
West Carter (17-3) vs. Webster County (13-7), 8:30 a.m.
Heath (12-7) vs. Betsy Layne (16-2), 10 a.m.
Lexington Christian (14-6) vs. Bardstown (15-5), 11:30 a.m.
Glasgow (14-4) vs. McLean County (12-8), 1 p.m.
Covington Holy Cross (18-2) vs. Barbourville (18-2), 5 p.m.
Owen County (14-7) vs. Buckhorn (16-3), 6:30 p.m.
Bishop Brossart (15-4) vs. Collegiate (12-5), 8 p.m.
DeSales (9-10) vs. Danville (7-10), 9:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 27
West Carter-Webster County winner vs. Heath-Betsy Layne winner, 5 p.m.
Lexington Christian-Bardstown winner vs. Glasgow-McLean County winner, 6:30 p.m.
Covington Holy Cross-Barbourville winner vs. Owen County-Buckhorn winner, 8 p.m.
Bishop Brossart-Collegiate winner vs. DeSales-Danville winner, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 28
Upper bracket, 6 p.m.
Lower bracket, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 29
Semifinal winners, 2:30 p.m.