Golden Eagles banking on big

Nov. 28—Tommy McKenzie wasn’t certain early in the preseason if Johnson Central was best suited to play fast or to work it in the halfcourt.

He didn’t mind the dilemma, because though pushing the pace has been the Golden Eagles’ MO more often than not under their 16th-year coach, they expect to have some size, too.

Six-foot-8 Ryan Rose averaged nearly a double-double last season. If Johnson Central chooses to pair him with sophomore newcomer Kaleb Norman, whom McKenzie called “gargantuan” at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds, it “can play a way that nobody else in the region can play right now,” its coach said.

“Really good teams can win multiple ways,” McKenzie said. “This team is gonna have to learn to do that.”

Of the six Golden Eagles who played in more than 18 games last year, five graduated. Rose is the lone returnee from that group. He pitched in 10.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season.

Rose and David Fink are the lone Johnson Central seniors who played much in 2021-22. Fink saw time in 14 games. Both will need big years for the Golden Eagles, McKenzie said.

Johnson Central expects to have some skilled players who weren’t contributors in black and gold last year to fill in holes. Norman, who didn’t play last season, brings size. Connor Hopkins pitched in 5.0 ppg last season in 27 games at Floyd Central. and Mason Lawson is back after missing all of last winter with a torn ACL sustained during football season.

Lawson, still playing a key role for the gridiron Golden Eagles as of the deadline for this story, “was a bull in a china shop” when he returned to the court over the summer, his coach said. McKenzie is happy to live with that.

“Football guys, especially running backs, they love the contact. They actually want that,” McKenzie said, “and in basketball, most post guys get beat up down low, but if you’re a guard, you gotta go looking for it most of the time. He went looking for it.

“He had an edge that he wanted to prove, ‘I’m back.'”

Boston Crace will help from a guard position, and Brayden Staniford projects as a contributor after seeing time in 10 games last year.

Johnson Central didn’t know yet in the early preseason if Jacob Grimm, who played in 18 games last season, would be out for basketball after quarterbacking the football Golden Eagles in the fall, McKenzie said.

Johnson Central went 15-10 under McKenzie’s stead last season. He also filled in as skipper for the Golden Eagles girls all year, which he called the “hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. … That’s not me ever again.”

McKenzie passed that role on to Jim Hicks and also is no longer athletic director, with Jason Shepherd now in that position.

McKenzie is staying busy, though. He has a new job as an assistant principal at Johnson Central, still drives a bus and has three kids involved in sports of their own.

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Read More: Golden Eagles banking on big 2022-11-28 11:52:00

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