LIBERTY — They all count, of course, but the losses the Casey County boys are accumulating in December don’t mean as much to their coach as they will later in the season.
First-year coach Darry Burkett said he’s more concerned for the time being with whether the Rebels are making progress than with what the scoreboard shows, and he said they are getting better even though they haven’t yet gotten into the win column.
The Rebels fell to 0-4 Friday night with a 63-53 loss to Pulaski County in their 47th District opener, but Burkett said each game has been better than the one before for a team low on experience, and he said he has thrown so many things at them that he knows it will take more time fore them to become comfortable on the court.
“I know that ... everybody looking at it is counting wins and losses, but we’re counting December as our preseason schedule,” Burkett said. “This is our training camp. We’ve got 14 games in 28 days ... and I told the kids that we would get better every game and that in January I’d start holding them accountable for wins and losses. Right now all I’m holding them accountable for is how hard they play and do they get better each game.”
Host Casey, which lost its first three games by an average of 21 points, was close enough to think about upsetting a Pulaski team listed at No. 14 in the current Bluegrasspreps.com statewide rankings.
“I had two people come up to me in school today and say, ‘Are y’all going to win a game all year?” Casey forward Baylen Hill said. “We don’t like that, so we all buckled down and played. We can compete with any team in this region, and I think that’s what helped us tonight: We all got together and wanted to play ball.”
Casey (0-4, 0-1 district) led for a time in the first quarter, trailed by only six points at halftime, then whittled a 16-point deficit to five by the final minute.
“Compared to the other games, we really buckled down. I felt like we came together more as a team and played better,” Hill said. “I really felt we should have come out on top, but that’s just how the cards were played.”
Pulaski (2-1, 1-0) opened the second half with 10 consecutive points — Casey had turnovers on four straight trips during that run — to take its largest lead at 44-28, but Clay Cannon scored eight unanswered points in 70 seconds as the Rebels cut the margin in half and got back in the game.
Cannon had two 3-point goals in that burst, went 4 for 7 from 3-point range and led Casey with 22 points.
“(He) played like a senior is supposed to play tonight,” Burkett said.
Casey trailed 57-45 with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining, but Pulaski scored only a single point in the next 3 1/2 minutes. One final 3 by Cannon made it 58-52 with 50 seconds to play, but the Rebels got only one point out of turnovers on the Maroons’ next two possessions, then allowed offensive rebounds on two straight missed free throws by the Maroons.
“A veteran team rebounds that ball. They don’t take for granted that you’re going to get that rebound, they go get the rebound,” Burkett said.
Casey is anything but a veteran team. The only Rebel who played meaningful minutes last season is center Luke Carman, who had a team-high 10 rebounds to help the Rebels outrebound Pulaski 47-39 but scored only three points.
“Luke played extremely hard and got nothing, not one good break, not one good bounce. One of these days he’s going to break out and start playing like the guy we see in practice every day,” Burkett said. “He’s not scratched his potential yet, and when we get him going like he’s capable of helping us, that’s going to make a tremendous difference in our team.”
Kody Johnson scored 32 points for Pulaski. He hit 3-pointers on three straight trips in the first quarter and was 5 for 13 from long range for the Maroons, who were 7 for 32.
Casey had 17 turnovers, and Burkett said some of their worst mistakes came during Pulaski’s best runs early in the third and fourth periods.
“We have five, six, eight ‘Three Stooges’ plays a game. You scratch your head and go, ‘How can a kid that’s ever played basketball make that play?’” Burkett said. “But we’ll play through that. Every game we play, we’ll get better. We’re not going to worry about our record; we’re going to worry about being the best team we can be the third week of February.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how hard my team plays and the good attitude their showing.”
Pulaski County 20 34 49 63
Casey County 16 28 41 53
PULASKI (2-1) — Spencer Laign 9, Nate Laign 2, Kody Johnson 32, Taylor Gover 12, Matt Smith 8.
CASEY (0-4) — Taylor Leigh 10, Baylen Hill 8, Luke Carman 3, Clay Cannon 22, Skyler Wright 7, Zack Scott 1, Micah Smith 2.