Friday, December 12, 2014

PREVIEW: Highlands Basketball May Take 9th Region by Surprise

Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Parker Harris (10) puts up a shot in the 9th Region quarterfinals against Covington Holmes last year. Harris is one of two returning starters for the Bluebirds.

by G. Michael Graham
FTM Sports Writer, originally published to Fort Thomas Matters Sports

It was a feeling the squad hopes to see a lot more.

The Highlands Bluebirds basketball team had just achieved its main goal of the season making it back to the 9th Region Tournament with a 75-64 win over the Newport Wildcats in the 36th District semifinals. The Highlands students formed a tunnel for the players and coaches to head back to the locker room.

The Blue and White proceeded to lose to arch-rival Newport Central Catholic, 65-36 in the district championship before bowing out to Covington Holmes, 60-41 in the 9th Region quarterfinals. The Bluebirds finished 9-15 on the season.

Highlands ventured into its first full off-season with Kevin Listerman as head coach. The Bluebirds hope to not only make it back to the Bank of Kentucky Center this season, but take bigger steps into returning to a region contender. Highlands has not won a region game since 2009, nor has it won a district championship since 2008.

“I think you’re going to be pleased with the basketball we play,” Listerman said. “We have tough kids. They don’t miss. They compete and lay it out there every single night. We may not be as talented or physically gifted as the teams we’re going to play. But I think we’re going to surprise people in the way we do things and the way we’re going to compete.”

Highlands needs to find starters in several key positions. Three starters from last year graduated in Drew Houliston, Brandon Hergott and Brendan Buten. Ryan Greene, Alex Shepherd and Luke Brockett also graduated.

Highlands had its first full off-season with Listerman as head coach. He took the job in the spring of 2013.

“He’s used to us now and we’re used to (Listerman),” said Kenny Ball, Highlands senior foward. “We expect things to go smoother this year. We’re getting to the point where we can run the up-tempo offense that he wants.”

The Bluebirds do return two starters in senior forward Parker Harris and junior guard Mitch Cain. Harris had a double-double of 22 points and 15 rebounds in the tournament win over Newport and Cain scored 10.

Highlands found itself conducting tryouts earlier in the week after the football players joined the team. The Bluebirds played for their eighth consecutive state championship beating Owensboro, 49-42 in the Class 4A title game in Bowling Green. It sometimes takes a few weeks for football players to get into basketball shape.

“I won’t say the legs are the biggest priority,” Listerman said. “That’s going to come from practicing and being out there every day. We do a segment of conditioning every day and try to balance it without killing those guys. The biggest thing we’re able to do in the fall is skill work on Sundays. We do a lot of offensive work where we hope that transitions for us to being in much better basketball skill shape when those guys come back from football.”

The three Highlands seniors hope to make up for the lost leadership. The seniors are Harris, Ball and guard Justin Weyer.

“We know it’s a process,” Weyer said. “We have to build it up year by year. We have to provide the same leadership they brought because they pushed us in practice. We have to do the same things.”

Listerman said he prefers to run an up-tempo style of basketball. The Bluebirds showed that some last year and hope to use it more this year. They have several players competing for time as guards. Aside from Weyer and Cain, the other listed guards are juniors Nick Kendall, Chandler New, sophomores Bradley Greene and Bryce Traylor.

Highlands struggled some against pressure teams last year. The Bluebirds have several press breaks. The coaches also made many players improve their shooting techniques in the offseason.

“I don’t know if it will show up early,” Listerman said. “But the things I’ve seen, I’ve been pleased with. We have several guys who handle the ball well enough that we can pick our matchups and utilize them to get the ball up the floor and get our offense started.”

The Bluebirds hope to improve their paint presence this year specifically with the presence of players like Ball, junior center Bo Hebel, junior forward Austin Hergott and sophomore center Kyle Finfrock. Forwards Jared Dougherty, a junior, and Luke LaFrange, a sophomore, could also help there.

“It’s about putting people in the right spots to handle things defensively,” Listerman said. “I feel comfortable about what we have. Certainly, our size is going to be a limitation. We’re able to do some things to counteract that this year that we weren’t quite prepared for last year.”

Highlands opens the season Friday against St. Henry. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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