It was only summer high school basketball, but don’t you dare think Tuesday evening’s clash in the annual Georgetown College camp between the red team and the blue team was just another game.
Scott County wore the red, of course, but for the first time in any capacity it was crosstown rival Great Crossing sporting the blues.
With a hundred-or-so spectators scattered about the SCHS gym, their eyes fixed on the action, it was clearly a different attraction than the other 30-minute, running-time scrimmages that characterize the week.
“I think the boys did a good job responding,” Scott County coach Tim Glenn said. “I was worried about it a little bit. It’s tough on the kids. We had talked a little bit before all the other games today. This one I didn’t even want to do it. Just get warmed up and go and play.”
SC led most of the game and shut off a steady stream of gritty GC comebacks to earn bragging rights for now, 44-34.
Neil Baker scored nine of his 13 points in the second half to lead the Cardinals, including a fall-away 20-footer that broke open a two-point game with about two minutes to go.
K.J. Tucker added 10 points and Terrin Hamilton eight for the Cardinals, who will be senior-dominated despite graduating seven standouts from a team that made back-to-back appearances in the state final.
They’re also breaking in a new head coach, of course, as Glenn steps up to succeed long-time mentor Billy Hicks.
“I think that’s the way it’s going to be,” Glenn said of the programs’ nip-and-tuck debut against one another. “One team’s going to be better than the other one on paper, but you can throw all that out. It’s going to be a ball game. There’s going to be too much pride in it.”
Michael McKenzie scored 10 of his team-high 12 points for Great Crossing in a relatively wide-open first half, one that ended with Scott County in front by two, 26-24.
Jaden Hall (eight points) and Elias Richardson (seven) supplied the balance to the Warhawks’ explosive senior guard.
All three players were key parts of Glenn’s junior varsity program in recent years.
“Most of our guys either played or tried to play for Scott County,” said Great Crossing coach Steve Page, who previously led the program at Scott County Middle School.
Page agreed with Glenn that both sides handled the opening round of attention on the new rivalry with maturity and class.
“What I liked about it is they both competed hard and within the rules,” Page said. “When you play a game like that so early, you hope as coaches that’s how it will work out, and that’s exactly how we expected. Kids having fun playing each other, but at the end of the day they’re going to remain buddies tomorrow and hanging out together half the time.”
Both teams are most concerned with developing depth and establishing their brand for the other 29 opponents on the winter schedules.
To that end, Scott County and Great Crossing each had ample cause to claim victory after winning three of their four games on Tuesday.
The Cardinals avenged a Monday loss to Oldham County, then lost a double-overtime, sudden-death thriller against Lincoln County before defeating Perry County Central.
“So three teams that have been in the state tournament in the past two years,” Glenn summarized. “We’re not there yet defensively, and Coach (Hicks) always said, this time of year it’s hard. You don’t have enough time. Defense is such a process. Offense is much easier.”
Great Crossing rolled past McCreary Central and also fought hard for what Page pronounced a “great” win over West Virginia Class 2A title contender Logan.
“We’ve won six and lost four or five so far this summer, so if you’d told me that before we started, I’d have said you were crazy,” Page said. “We have all three teams (varsity, junior varsity, freshman). I basically said anybody who wants to play, we’ll find a spot for you sometime this month.”
Scott County’s roster showcases more varsity experience, and the Cardinals flexed those muscles from the opening tap. Tucker drained a 3-pointer to put SC on the board. Jaylen Barber, who casts an imposing shadow in the middle at 6-foot-8, followed with a put-back.
Barber blocked and altered numerous shots during the game, a role in which Glenn expects him to flourish in the year ahead.
“There are a couple different things we need to do with him,” Glenn said. “He needs to be a basket protector. It makes him a commodity that other people don’t have.”
McKenzie’s spin move and drive to the rim got Great Crossing into a rhythm. Richardson’s 3-point play capped an 8-2 run that gave the Warhawks their first-ever lead over the Cardinals, 10-9, with 8:2 remaining in the half.
Richardson also rained down a corner three to put GC on top by one, 24-23, late in the half. Chase Grigsby reclaimed the lead for SC by cutting right-to-left along the baseline and cashing in a feed from Tucker.
Defense is even more tricky in the summer format by the stipulation that non-shooting fouls result in a point for the other team.
“This is not real basketball. The way we play defense, we’re going to give you points,” Glenn said. “We’re going to get our fouls. I’ve told JV teams in the past, if you’ve only got two fouls at halftime, you ain’t playing hard enough.”
Baker, coming off an impressive spring AAU slate, heated up in the second half. He started it off the Cardinals with a 3-pointer.
Tucker dropped another bomb after a steal by Silas Emongo to make it 35-29 with 7:20 to go, but Great Crossing’s more active zone defense slowed the Cardinals’ outside game down the stretch.
“We played mostly man, but we’re not going to be married to one system or another,” Page said. “We’ll base it on who we’re playing. That’s why we played a little zone. We would’ve had a little trouble guarding them man, probably, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
McKenzie’s corner three rolled around the rim and out with about a minute to go. Hamilton canned one from the top of the arc at the other end for a six-point swing and an insurmountable 41-33 lead.
Scott County, which gave away a hefty cushion late in regulation against Lincoln County, wisely nursed the clock this time.
“I told Page that’s gong to be a lot of fun for a whole lot of years, and I told our kids, really both sides, they did a good job not getting caught up in what could be kind of the ugly part of the hype,” Glenn said. “It’s just got to be fun. The game means something, and when that happens it usually makes it more fun.”
If you missed Tuesday’s game, it may not be your only chance this summer. The teams are paired up in two additional camps later this month.
Although they will play in different districts — Great Crossing the 41st, and Scott County the 42nd — they are scheduled to meet in their first regular season tilt Feb. 14, 2020. There is also the annual possibility of a showdown at the Toyota Classic.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.