Admirals’ winning performances start on the glass

Published 1:29 am Friday, January 11, 2019

It has been one historic start to the season for Danville boys basketball.

The Admirals have started the season 15-1 and 2-0 in 45th District play. There are plenty of causes for such a streak, but the most notable has been physical: Danville is big.

Danville ranks in the top 10 in the state in team defense (48.4 points per game) and sixth in margin of victory (20.1 points per game), and it starts on the glass.

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Head coach Ed McKinney doesn’t have just one monster on the glass. He’s got four.

DeShaud St. Martin and Ethan Wood, both 6-foot-6, are pillars in the paint. The 6-foot-4 Zach Thornton starts on the wing but is second on the team in rebounds per game (6.9).

Then there’s Darrian Bell, who at 6-foot-1, does all of the dirty work needed for his team to dominate.

“Off the bat with Darrian, you can tell he’s a hustler and he’s really physical,” St. Martin said. “He plays like he’s 6-foot-5, I’ll tell you that. He plays with such a big body. He gets that from football, he just has a nose for getting in there and getting into tough situations, grabbing a loose ball or getting a strong, tough rebound. He brings that.”

St. Martin leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game and adds another 9.3 points per game. Wood adds 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game off of the bench, and Bell gets 9.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

It’s one thing to have the size to rebound. But the Admirals have gone out and owned the glass on a nightly basis, and it’s showing in the wins column.

“I think the greatest thing is that we’ve gone and gotten the ball,” McKinney said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re big or not, you’ve still got to go get it. Rebounding is all about want-to, especially offensive rebounding. You’re going to get about one out of every five you go after. Sometimes it’s just luck. But it’s all about the numbers of times you go hard. You’re going to be rewarded about 20 percent of the time, you’ve just got to keep battling. To their credit, I think they keep fighting.”

That has started in practice for the Admirals: Danville players face off against some of the best big men in the region every day in practice.

Bell said that it’s helped him on offense going against St. Martin and Wood every day.

“They’re just so tall, you don’t really see length like that in games,” Bell said. “You get blocked in practice, so you create a move to not get blocked. It just helps you in game because it’s so competitive. It makes games easier. But it’s really fun, it helps me develop moves I can use in a game.”

Bell’s strength isn’t just in his, well, strength. He’s been on clean-up duty for the Admirals, whether that’s taking charges or diving for a loose ball.

“Darrian is freakish and he eats space,” McKinney said. “I don’t think you coach that. When he goes up, people move. He plays big, wide. He’s strong as a bull. He’s going to get loose balls because he wants them and he’s physically superior.”

Bell said he doesn’t mind that role, and said that he’s received plenty of support from his teammates.

“It’s fun. It’s kind of the dirty work, but I don’t have any problem with it,” Bell said. “

Taking charges, people get hyped about that, I never thought they would. But it’s fun. I think the weight room has helped me, just getting stronger. If it wasn’t for my strength, I wouldn’t be able to compete. We’ve got a lot of length, and I think I’m just able to, like coach says, create and eat space and go get the ball. That’s where my strength comes into play.”

McKinney said he’s got to watch players in practice because it gets so competitive. Players don’t get chippy with each other, but they get frustrated when they’re not scoring like they can in games.

“I’ve said a lot of times, the guys they’re going against in practice are just as good, offensively or defensively, as what they’re guarding in games,” McKinney said. “I think most people would tell you, Ethan, Trey (Dawson), Caden (Hill), Brennen (McGuire) is as quick as anyone in the region, Damion Givens-Ford is playing well.

“Those 10 guys are going to play for a lot of teams. You can get better in practice, and that’s rare anywhere. It’s definitely rare for a small school. I’m going to end up taking this for granted, because the practices are intense. Sometimes I’ve got to watch it because it’s so intense, you can tear a kids’ confidence down. They get locked up by Caden in practice and wonder why they can’t do anything. It’s because Caden is pretty dang good.”

St. Martin said that as tough as practices can be, they know the work pays off.

“You’ve got to be tough down there, for real,” he said. “Darrian shows that if you hustle, things are going to go your way if you keep your head straight. Ethan, he’s helped me be more physical because we battle every day. “It helps us a lot in rebounding, and during practice we just get after it. It’s real physical down low and we know by the end of practice, it’s going to help us be a better team.”

Bell and Thornton’s physicality has certainly been aided by their football play in the fall. Danville’s season ended relatively early this year, but the football player’s chemistry carried over to the basketball court.

“It developed a lot of chemistry,” Bell said. “Of course you want to play, you want to go to state, but sometimes it’s just not your year. I think it helped our chemistry a whole bunch, helped us football players get our shot back. It was real fun to get out with the team.”

McKinney said that he’s seen positives in each of the past two football seasons play out on the basketball court.

“I think you get that either way, when we won it, they brought the swag of that title,” McKinney said. “Then this year, it didn’t go the way they wanted and it makes you more hungry. That’s kids being resilient. I tell them, I don’t want them to lose football games to make us competitive in basketball. I show them, Bowling Green has had success in both. Mayfield is having success at both, Corbin has been a good football/basketball school. There’s a lot of schools that have both, that’s what we want here. We want good everything.”

Strength and size have certainly been an important factor to the Admirals season so far, and it’s helped the team to win games that might not have been winnable in the past.

“There have been three or four big games that we’ve won just because we’ve gained possessions on the glass,” McKinney said. And we’ve done a good job, nobody has hurt us on the glass on their end, either. Shaud pursues it hard, Zach has good length and goes and gets it, Darrian eats space. And Ethan’s a good athlete too, you’ve seen him drop step and dunk it. We’re blessed with four guys there that can just go get it, and they want to go get it. We want to win, and when you want to win, you go get the ball.”