Josh Hamlin earns Coach of the Year honors

Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

Mercer County swept through the 12th Region and 46th District for the third-straight season.

And, for the third straight season, the Titans had a different coach.

Josh Hamlin took over in May of 2017 and didn’t lose a district or region tournament game until the region title game. His Titans finished with more wins than any other team in the 12th Region at 27-6 and finished the regular-season with a 15-0 region record.

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He’s the Advocate-Messenger All-Area Coach of the Year.

“When we got the job in May, it was one of those situations where we had to get ready for the summer in a hurry,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think any of us really understood what July through November would hold for us. We were missing a lot of kids, playing football, playing golf, playing soccer. So when we finally got kids out in November, we kind of had to adjust our system that we had in our minds. Getting in basketball game shape as quick as possible. It changed sometimes daily because we were trying to get legs, get shots, get everything else. Once January hit, we finally got into the groove.”

The Titans were 10-4 in 2017. When the new year hit, Hamlin’s right: The Titans started grooving.

Mercer won 11-straight games to open the new year and averaged more than 75 points per game during that stretch. On the year, Mercer scored 71.6 points per game, second in the region to Pulaski County.

“People could see that we wanted to play a spread-out style of basketball, that incorporated everyone touching the basketball,” Hamlin said. “Play defense as a team, as a unit and switching up defense game-to-game. As a staff, we were never really satisfied with our defensive effort, but we were holding teams to 40, 50 points against us. I think that speaks to our kids. It was kind of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of year because we got them out late, played so many games early. But we were able to establish our identity by January.”

Mercer’s schedule wasn’t easy, either: Mercer’s first loss of 2018 came to Warren Central, who made the state tournament final four.

“When you looked at it, it could’ve gone a couple ways: 27 wins, with the schedule we played, we thought it might be possible to get there, but we were realists. If we would’ve had 22 wins, it still would’ve been a solid year with the schedule we played,” he said. “Being able to go undefeated in the district regular season and postseason was a great accomplishment for our kids.”

Hamlin also thanked his assistants — Brian Pendygraft and Kasey McRay — for their roles in the Titans’ success this year.

“The word ‘we’ is thrown around a lot in our program. We don’t believe in the word I,” Hamlin said. “Nobody does anything independently — if you make a shot, it’s because somebody’s passing it to you. Coach Prendergraft, coach McRay, a head coach is only as good as their assistants and their support staff. I’ve got arguably the best staff in this region, I’ll go up against anybody saying that. They work tirelessly … I’m just extremely blessed to have them on my staff. We want to see Mercer County successful. Coach Pendergraft has been here awhile, Coach McRay is a graduate. It means something to those two guys. Any time as an outsider you see that commitment, it really is something positive.”

He also mentioned the Titans’ strength coach, Chuck Miller.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t’ mention coach Miller,” Hamlin said. “He’s not on the bench, he’s in the stands, but he was one of the most valuable assets we had. The ability of our kids to get more flexible, faster and stronger under his tutelage is something that really paid dividends for us throughout the season. We can’t wait to see results that are shown.”

Hamlin said that the 12th Region championship loss to Southwestern still stings, but the hunger and drive to return to that game is there for him and his team.

“The loss in the finals is still fresh on all of our memories on the team,” Hamlin said. “It’s something we still talk about. It’s something that — we were not able to reach our goal. It’s disappointing to us all, but when we sat down to talk about our seawson, we still look at it as a success. We’re glad that we were all able to be a part of it. We’re looking forward to continuing to do that in future years.”