When East Jessamine takes the floor next week for its season opener, the Jags will look a lot different than the 28-win team of a year ago.
Former seniors Cameron Thomas, CJ Boyd, Cody Collins, Michael Rexroat and Tashan Hairston are all gone.
Only three players who saw significant minutes last year are returning — sophomore Ronnie Carson and seniors Timmy Bradshaw and Taylor Harper.
“(Carson) as a sophomore, in my opinion, has to be one of the top sophomores in the state,” East coach Chris O’Bryan said. “By the time it’s all said and done, to me, by the time he’s a senior, he could be a Mr. Basketball candidate.”
Carson has really worked on his outside shooting abilities this offseason and added that dimension to his game. During a summer-league game, he hit seven three-pointer in one half.
Bradshaw started several games last winter and has developed into a very pure shooter, according to O’Bryan.
Harper was a jack of all trades last year, playing both guard positions, taking charges in the lane, getting the hard fouls, setting picks — whatever it took to get East the ball or get his teammates an open shot.
“He did all the dirty work,” O’Bryan said. “This year, that role is going to change drastically. He’s going to have to control the ball, handle the ball a lot more.”
After those three players, O’Bryan has a couple of options. Mike Jones and Jarod Rocco will be likely starters. They each saw some playing time last year but still have very little varsity experience.
“Mike Jones ... has really been consistent in practice, and that’s what we need from a senior leader,” O’Bryan said. “Rocco has been as solid as we expected. He’s actually developed a nice little jump hook in the middle of the lane.”
Kameren Sanders has also looked impress in the last few weeks.
“All three of those guys have really been playing well,” O’Bryan said. “The problem is after that, it’s pretty up in the air about what we have. Our biggest problem now is trying to develop some depth and develop some people that can contribute and give us solid minutes off the bench.”
Jacob Mulcahy, Hayden Smith and John Hisel can all step into key roles be give the Jags some more depth.
If Hisel sounds unfamiliar, it’s because he’s new to the county — he transfered in from Tates Creek earlier this season. East has had some luck with transfers in the past; last winter, transfer CJ Boyd was a huge addition for the Jags.
Hisel’s biggest contribution will likely be his size. At 6 feet, 5 inches, he is tallest player in the county and could give a guard-heavy East squad some more post presence.
“He’s been a big surprise ... he’s athletic, he can dunk two-handed ... but he hasn’t played basketball since he was in middle school,” O’Bryan said. “So getting him on the same page as everyone else has been kind of a task.”
At some point during the season, Hisel will be at least a foot taller than his point guard. O’Bryan said that eighth-grader Nathan Harper — listed at 5 feet, 4 inches — will see playing time with his brother, Taylor.
“He has developed into a really good shooter, and from an IQ standpoint, there’s very few players that understand the game better than he does,” O’Bryan said. “He’s a little fire ball of energy.”
O’Bryan isn’t terribly worried about having a dominant force in the paint. He said the one thing he learned last year is that you win with guards.
East will play a more controlled game than in the past. It can’t give up cheap fouls and get in foul trouble early because the depth just isn’t there like it was in years past.
The Jags lost a lot of speed from last year’s team as well and won’t be able to press and get up and down the court as much.
“We’ve got to be able to sit down and guard people in the half court,” O’Bryan said. “We’ve really focused on stopping ball penetration, keeping the ball out of the middle and preventing people from getting inside.”
December may be a little rough for the Jags as they figure out the best rotations and work players in games to develop more depth. However, O’Bryan is confident that come February and March he will be able to go nine or 10 players deep without sacrificing talent on the floor.
“Once we get that experience built up, they’ll be able to compete with anybody,” he said.
East Jessamine opens the season on the road Tuesday night at Estill County. The Jags beat the Engineers 89-39 in last year’s season opener.