Danville’s Mason coaching Kentucky all-stars against Indiana

Published 8:00 am Friday, June 10, 2022

MIKE MARSEE

Contributing Writer

This is the best team Judie Mason will ever coach, and it will only be together for two more games. That said, Mason is making the most of every minute she has as head coach of the Kentucky All-Stars.

The Danville girls coach will lead the Kentucky girls in their two games in the annual Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series this weekend.

“This is definitely a bucket list (item) for me,” Mason said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Mason has been following the Kentucky-Indiana series since the 1980s when she was playing at Whitesburg.

“Being from eastern Kentucky, I never thought I would get to play, and for me to be part of it as a coach is the epitome for me,” she said.

She said she wants her players to feel the same way about their experience when they take the floor Friday night in Owensboro and Saturday in Indianapolis.

“When they put on that uniform Friday night and suit up to play Indiana, these girls are going to see what a special moment it is,” Mason said.

There have been a number of special moments for Mason already, from the tryouts to the practices to a game last weekend against the Kentucky Junior All-Stars.

“It’s just a fun learning experience for me,” Mason said. “I feel like I’m in a lab.”

Danville girls basketball coach Judie Mason will coach the Kentucky team in the annual Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series this weekend in Owensboro and Indianapolis. Photo by Mike Marsee

Mason, who earned her 500th career win last season, said she’s learning from the coaches on the all-star staff and other coaches who are working with the program.

“I’m just enjoying my time with them and with the coaching group. I’m learning something every day in practice,” she said. “When I walk in the gym, I know I’m going to learn something, even from the players.”

All-star coaches serve as assistant coaches the previous season, and Mason was on the 2021 staff led by Kes Murphy that split its two games with the Indiana All-Stars, who lead the series 51-39.

As head coach, she said, “I’ll probably just be me, just go out and enjoy watching them play without having to make a lot of adjustments.”

Her team is led by Kentucky’s Miss Basketball, Amiya Jenkins of Anderson County, who signed with Kentucky last fall.

The 12-person roster includes six other Division I signees: Jaileyah Cotton of Bardstown (East Tennessee State), Amaya Curry of Apollo (Bellarmine), Josie Gilvin of Sacred Heart (Western Kentucky), Gracie Merkle of Bullitt East (Bellarmine), Riley Neal of North Oldham (Miami (Ohio)) and Cassidy Rowe of Shelby Valley (Kentucky).

“It’s a good opportunity to coach kids that I’m going to see on TV someday,” Mason said. “It’ll be pure basketball, because all 12 kids can play.”

Mason isn’t seeing as much of those players as she would like, but that’s beyond her control. Gone are the days when the all-stars came together for two weeks to practice and play, as many of the players already are working out with their college teams.

The team was together only a couple of times between tryouts and their game Saturday against the junior all-stars, a game the senior team lost 106-83 after committing 36 turnovers.

The players will reconvene Friday in Owensboro for a morning practice before the evening game, and they’ll travel to Indianapolis on Saturday.

Mason and the coaches involved in the selection process tried to construct a team capable of getting up and down the floor, in part because that’s her preferred style and in part because it could give them an edge against a larger Indiana squad that includes eight Division I players and is led by 6-2 Ayanna Patterson of Fort Wayne Homestead, a UConn recruit who is the Hoosier State’s Miss Basketball.

However, she said the style of play likely will depend on whether Merkle, a 6-6 center who is a force in the paint, is on the floor.

“We’ll be two different teams when Merkle’s in and when she’s not,” Mason said. “We’ll be a more pressing, run-and-gun team when we sub in for her.”

Mason will not, however, spend a great deal of time on defense.

“When it comes to all-star games, it’s just about putting the ball in the basket,” she said. “We can talk about defense and pressing, but when it comes down to it, there isn’t going to be a lot of defense played.”

Mason, who coached at Danville from 2007-15 and returned in 2018, has made room on her staff for Tryston Ford, a 2012 Danville graduate who is on the Lady Admirals’ coaching staff.

“He played here when I first coached here, and I’ve tried to be his mentor ever since he was in high school,” Mason said.

Mason said the experience of working with this team and with a number of veteran coaches will be invaluable for Ford.

“Tryston is just a good role model for these girls to be around,” she said. “He knows my style, my drills, what I want. I know it has to be very intimidating for him (to lead drills at times), and he just jumped right out there like it was natural. It was fun for me to watch him, because I really think of him like my nephew.”

Mason wants her Danville players to enjoy some of the all-star experience as well. The Lady Admirals will join her in Indianapolis for the Saturday game.

“I want them to see what it’s all about,” she said.