Handicapping the Greater Egyptian Conference race last year was simple.
It was Thompsonville and the field. Graduation took its toll on the Tigers, and coach Pete Gordon has taken the job at West Frankfort.
Corbin Fitch and Grady Furlow return for new coach Curt Reed, but the feeling is the Tigers have come back to the field.
“It will be a competitive league,” said Crab Orchard coach Jon Brown. “I think for the most part, you’re going to see some good highly contested games. It will be who is better that night.”
“I think the conference is … it’s hard to say,” said Hardin County’s Rodney Lane.
Crab Orchard and Hardin County are two of the teams looking to push the Tigers from the top spot this year.
Brown’s Trojans, 20-13 last year, have three starters back in Hunter Throgmorton, Kegan Peek and Tony Lakotich. And, Quentin Meyers has returned to the fold. Meyers played as a freshman, but his family moved to North Carolina last year. The 6-2 post player is back this season.
“We should have good balance,” Brown said. “We have some size around the basket. We definitely have some depth, which is usually something we haven’t had, even with some of the better teams we’ve had.”
Throgmorton returns at the point, and Peek relentlessly attacks the basket. Throgmorton scored 16-5 points per game last year; Peek scored 18.
“Peek and Throgmorton, they can put points on the board, they can defend,” Brown said. “They can both rebound the ball. They’ve been playing with undersized guys, they had to take over some responsibilities.”
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Throw in Lakotich’s 11 points per game and Meyers’ presence, and the Trojans will be a load. In addition, both Ian Dawes and Grady Powell played meaningful minutes last year.
“We’re going to have to defend,” Brown said. “Last year we got pushed around a little too much around the rim. I think we have to establish some toughness. We can shoot the ball a little, we can drive a little. I think we have to get a little tougher around the basket. If we can do that, I think we’ll be right there.”
In the meantime, Lane said his Cougars will be the best team he has fielded in his 10 years at Hardin County.
“We’re not real big, but we’re pretty athletic, pretty fast and they’re shooting pretty well for younger kids,” Lane said. “We’ll be playing mostly sophomores and juniors.”
Lane has three starters returning in twin guards Johnny and Jermaine Johnson. Jake Vaughn, another guard, started as a freshman last year.
“The Johnson twins, they’re both pretty quick,” Lane said. “Johnny has become a pretty good shooter, and Jermaine has become our defensive stopper. Vaughn is probably the most athletic kid on our team. He gets to the basket pretty well and has much improved on his mid-range shot and his 3-pointer.”
Lane expects an eight or nine player rotation that includes Calen Banks, Lanceton Fields, Ben Vaughn and Gavin Smith.
The ability to rebound and defend the post are Lane’s biggest concerns.
Like Brown, Lane thinks his team can contend for the GEC title with Thompsonville, Gallatin County, NCOE and Crab Orchard.