Thirteen talented, interchangeable parts can be both a blessing and a curse, mainly because only five can step on a court and share one basketball at any given time.
Great Crossing's talent and depth are significantly greater than the Warhawks flaunted while winning back-to-back 41st District boys' regular season titles in their first two seasons as a program.
Not enough attention to detail in practice and a lack of esprit de corps on game day might have been the primary reasons for a pair of first-round playoff exits, so GC coach Steve Page has wasted no time making those the Warhawks' points of emphasis heading into year three.
“Two years in the program, that's probably the biggest philosophical change I've made is that day-in, day-out, we weren't competitive enough last year, and then when we played it showed up on the court,” Page said. “We're hoping that making them competitive in practice, that'll make a difference.”
To that end, each practice is filmed and charted, with everything from steals to held balls to charges tallied, thrown into a point system and turned into a weekly award.
Acronyms and hashtags that incorporate the concept of T-E-A-M also are a primary topic of conversation.
“We've got a lot of talent, so I told 'em before, one game one guy might play five minutes, and the next game he may play 15 or 20,” Page said. “We don't know how it’s all going to work out, but we try to make it all about the team. No matter what happens, if we win the game, that should be the most important thing.”
The future is bright, but it could arrive sooner than some observers around the state realize, based on preseason polling that hasn't given GC an overwhelming amount of credit.
Aside from Tyler Sparks (graduated) and Kalib Perry (concentrating on his football future at the University of Tennessee), GC's entire roster is intact from an 11-12 season that concluded with a 55-50 loss to Franklin County in the district semifinals.
In preseason, the Warhawks have started three freshmen — Vince Dawson, Junius Burrell and Mlachi Moreno — who played significant roles at the varsity level last season. Burrell (11.3 points per game) and Dawson (8.4) were two of GC's top three scorers, while the 6-foot-10 Moreno set the school's single-game scoring record with 33 points against Paris as an eighth-grader. He sank more than 60 percent of his field goal attempts on the season.
“We played three freshmen and an eighth-grader last year, so they're battle-tested, and we hope that'll make a big difference,” Page said.
Christian Martin joins Burrell and Dawson in having reclassified to the Class of 2025 by virtue of Senate Bill 128, a concession to the pandemic that will permit affected athletes an optional fifth year of high school.
GC welcomes back two substantial seniors in Carson Walls (11.2 ppg) and Tye Schureman (35 3-pointers).
Burrell, Dawson, Walls and Schureman combined for 142 of GC's 157 connections from beyond the arc last winter. And with Moreno and 6-6 sophomore Jeremiah Godfrey drawing a crowd in the paint, they're sure to get even more open looks in the new year.
“We're trying to play inside-out,” Page said. “We want the ball in to Malachi and/or Jeremiah first and then let them operate instead of vice-versa. We've got 10, 11 kids than can knock down a three at any given time.”
Gage Richardson, yet another freshman, is a long-range threat who saw some varsity time at Scott County a year ago.
Da'Quis Brown, Tyquan Stakelin and Martin all bring energy and explosiveness whenever they're in the game. Points off turnovers will be a key barometer.
“There's only three or four kids that don't have (much) varsity playing experience, with Gage Richardson being the one that has the potential to play the most,” Page said. “I feel we've got a lot of talent if they come together, and if they stay together when one doesn't play and they make it all about the team, I think our ceiling is very, very, very high. It's easier for me to sit here and say it, and its' much different for them to go out on the court and produce.”
Great Crossing also fell in an overtime thriller to Frankfort two years ago to miss out on regions after earning a No. 1 district seed.
Page knows he'll have his working cut out in terms of distributing playing time, but he doesn't believe he'll need to dust off too many motivational speeches.
“They should be very hungry. We had a really good summer,” he said. “It’s like Jim Reid (late Georgetown College coach) used to say, 'I'm cautiously optimistic on the season' every year, and every year they went to (the NAIA tournament in) Kansas City.”
Big names on the schedule inside West Jessamine at home in the season opener, Ballard, George Rogers Clark, Madison Central, Scott County, Henry Clay and Oldham County.
Getting off to a better start than in 2019-20 (0-3) and 2020-21 (0-4) is essential, but it's not guaranteed, given the strength of the slate.
“Obviously we're playing in the Lexington Catholic tournament, and Ballard is I think 45th in the nation in some poll I saw, so we're matched up with them first,” Page said. “Toyota Classic is as loaded as it's ever been.
“We're going to challenge the kids, but I think they need that.”
kal oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Great Crossing Warhawks
1 Vince Dawson III, 6-5 freshman G/F
2 Carson Walls, 5-11 senior G
3 Tyquan Stakelin, 5-11 senior G
4 Jaylen Warren, 5-9 sophomore G
5 Junius Burrell, 5-9 freshman G
10 Da’Quis Brown, 5-10 junior G
11 Gage Richardson, 6-3 freshman G
13 Christian Martin, 6-0 freshman G
14 Jamari Mason, 5-9 freshman G
21 Jeremiah Godfrey, 6-6 soph. F
22 Tye Schureman, 6-3 senior G/F
24 Malachi Moreno, 6-10 freshman C
31 Ethan Payne, 6-5 senior C
0 Caden Wise, 6-6 junior
12 Bishop McKinney, 5-8 freshman
15 Rhett Barber, 6-0 sophomore
20 JaMarcus Graham, 5-10 sophomore
23 Carter Dotson, 6-3 sophomore
30 Suhail Ammari, 6-4 sophomore
33 Javontae Dean, 5-10 freshman
34 Isaac Taylor, 6-0 freshman
2 Graham Swartz, 5-6 seventh grade
3 Blake Bailey, 5-8 freshman
5 Alex Bennett, 5-9 freshman
10 Juelz Hill, 5-7 freshman
11 Taron Lewis, 5-6 freshman
20 Joshua Strong, 5-10 freshman
22 Brody Pensinger, 6-0 freshman
23 Jacob Ison, 5-10 eighth grade
24 Ryan Brown, 6-2 freshman
30 Levi Comp, 6-1 freshman
32 Ryan Payne, 6-0 freshman
33 Mason Bechel, 6-3 freshman
Varsity coach: Steve Page
JV coach: Matt Walls
Frosh coach: Vince Dawson
Assistant coaches: Tamron Manning, Dudley Mattingly, Rhett Shlrley
Managers: Thomas Taylor, Brayden Contino, Sophie Long, Jacob Pendleton
Bookkeeper: Rob Portwood
Clock: Joe Campbell
Stats: Jason Taylor, Dustin Parkey
Trainers: Kayla Hanson, Ansley Swann
Principal: Joy Lusby
Athletic Director: Austin Haywood
Great Crossing schedule
(subject to change; home unless noted)
30 West Jessamine, 7:30 p.m.
2 South Oldham, 7:30 p.m.
4 vs. Augusta at Harrison County, 3 p.m.
8-11 Toyota Classic, TBA
17 at Western Hills, 7:30 p.m.
21 at Bryan Station, 7:30 p.m.
26-29 Holiday Classic at Lex Cath, TBA
4 Frankfort, 7:30 p.m.
6 George Rogers Clark, 7:30 p.m.
8 at Madison Southern, 4:30 p.m.
11 Franklin County, 7:30 p.m.
14 at Madison Central, 8 p.m.
18 Western Hills, 6 p.m.
21 East Jessamine, 7:30 p.m.
24 at Pendleton County, 7:30 p.m.
26 at Scott County, 7:30 p.m.
28 at Frankfort, 7:30 p.m.
31 at Frankfort Christian, 7 p.m.
1 at Franklin County, 7:30 p.m.
5 Grant County, 4:30 p.m.
8 Henry Clay, 7:30 p.m.
10 St. Henry, 7 p.m.
12 Lincoln County, 7:30 p.m.
15 Tates Creek, 8 p.m.
17 at Oldham County, 7:30 p.m.
21-25 41st District at Frankfort
28 11th Region at higher seeds
1-7 11th Region at EKU
16-20 KHSAA Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena