Inexperienced Danville learning how to win

Published 10:17 am Friday, January 5, 2024

By Mike Marsee

Contributing Writer

While it’s true the Danville boys don’t have many wins, they do have something they didn’t have a month ago: experience.

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Not enough to produce the results the Admirals are looking for quite yet, but enough to teach some valuable lessons about what it will take to become the team they want to be.

The Admirals won only two of 11 games in December and reached double-digit losses in their first game of the new year when they dropped a 52-47 decision to Southwestern on Tuesday night.

It is an unsatisfying but unsurprising start for first-year coach Tryston Ford, who knew what he was getting into with a team that began the season with almost no varsity experience.

“I know what we’re working with this season … as far as the lack of experience,” Ford said. “Right now, what we’re trying to do is learn how to win games. What I told them is that’s why I’m not that frustrated.”

That didn’t work out so well Tuesday, when Danville (2-10) led for more than 26 minutes before yielding in the closing minutes.

Southwestern (7-7) clawed its way back from a 12-point deficit and outplayed the Admirals in the fourth quarter to take control, leaving the Admirals behind by breaking a 45-all tie with seven unanswered points in 48 seconds.

“Yeah, I’m a competitor, so I love to win,” Ford said. “But I understand the lesson in losing and I understand that these kids aren’t used to winning, so we’ve got to learn how to win and … we’ve got to learn how to finish.”

Danville has lost more close games than it has won, though it did protect a lead for an overtime win over Clinton County in its previous game.

This game went the other way after Southwestern controlled the second half, when it shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and outrebounded the Admirals 19-7.

“We’ve got to understand that defense is the main priority and that there’s no possessions we can take off on defense,” Ford said. “We’re just trying to get the identity that defense comes first, and then understanding that every possession matters. Even though it’s the second quarter with four minutes to go, that possession matters.”

Ford said one thing the Admirals have done well is play hard, and he wants to blend that effort with better basketball smarts. For example, he said they are sharing the ball well but need better ball movement against the zone defenses they regularly face.

“My kids play hard all the time, they just don’t always play the smartest,” he said. “So we’re just trying to keep them together, keep them with a positive mindset and use these games as lessons.”

Everything is a lesson for a team that lost its top five scorers and returned only 5.5 points per game. Danville has entered a stretch of its schedule that is heavy with 45th District games, including games Thursday against Danville Christian and Friday against Garrard County, and Ford said the goal for this season is to be a better team by late February and to be in position to reach the regional tournament.

Injuries have slowed the Admirals’ progress recently. Senior Ontario Hill, the team’s leading rebounder, is out with a fractured nose, and junior Braidin Baughman missed a couple of games with a calf injury.

Junior Trevarion Paige, who has emerged as Danville’s top scorer with 19.9 points per game, finished with six points Tuesday after hitting his head on the floor.

Junior Braylon Guest hit six 3-point shots and scored a game-high 23 points for the Admirals, who led 18-6 late in the first quarter and 26-21 at halftime.

Scoring leaders have emerged for Danville, but Ford said he’s trying to fill a larger leadership void within his young team.

“We didn’t pick captains at the beginning of the year just because we want to see who’s a natural leader,” he said. “I tell them, ‘You can be a vocal leader, but if you don’t match what you say, then they’re not going to respect what you’re saying so your team’s not going to follow you.’ A couple of kids are catching on, they’re a little more vocal.”

He said he’s also trying to stress the importance of practice.

“I tell them we practice way more than we play, so the practice is just as if not more important than the games,” Ford said. “Sometimes we don’t take practice with the right approach, and that’s just another thing that we’re learning.”