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Averaging less than five wins per season over the last eight years, success for the Williamstown High School boys’ basketball program is a distant memory.
But it was only eight short years ago that the Demons were traditionally one of the better teams in their district and region, winning 17 games or more each year from 2002 through 2006 and turning in double-digit win seasons six times in a nine-year span.
And that’s exactly the kind of success second- year head coach Roger Harden has in mind for the Demons. And it’s not a matter of if it happens, but rather when it happens, said the former University of Kentucky basketball star.
“Just believe in tomorrow,” Harden said.. “We have to have a good work ethic and believe in tomorrow. I believe it can happen. I believe it will happen. And I will not be surprised when it does happen.”
Harden said the Demons’ strong work ethic id one of the team’s strongest points, which should accelerate the Demons’ rise.
“Our work ethic may be the best attribute we have,” Harden said. “Shortly after last season was over, there was a core of about seven or eight guys who made a strong commitment to basketball and to the weight room and didn’t take too many days off during the off-season.
We’re building a culture here where our players understand the commitment it takes to be good. And with that kind of work ethic, we are making progress. And I’m very excited. I’m thrilled about what our future holds. “
As well as getting stronger from last season, Harden said his players are smarter as a team, as well as being better at the basic fundamentals of the game.
“We are a very good shooting basketball team,” Harden said. “But we’ve gone from one end of the pendulum to the other when it comes to ball handling. We have become an extraordinarily good ball handling team. We have quickness, we have shooting, and we have good ball handling.”
While depth has never been an issue for the Demons, quality depth has been. But that’s another aspect of the game that is changing for the program with no fewer than 10 players expected to have a significant role in the normal rotation.
“I feel comfortable going 10 or 11 deep,” said Harden. “The way we play and what we ask of our players, it will be hard for any player to go the full four quarters. So depth will be very important for us.”
Speed is another strength for the team, and it’s something Harden believes the team will need to utilize to overcome the absence of a true big man in the middle for the Demons.
“Height is something we’re lacking in,” Harden added. “I’m sure we will play teams where height will be an issue for us, but hopefully on the other end of the floor, with what we do, we can create some mismatches and draw the bigger guys out.”
While the opponent will likely dictate the type of offense and defense his team plays each night, Harden said he’s more focused on what his team can and can’t do when coming up with a game plan, not what the other team is capable of.
“As a coach, I spend more time thinking about what we can do as a team as opposed to who we are going to play or what they do,” he said. “Every time we take the floor, we are going to pretty much have the same challenges.
“We’re going to be able to play at a lot of different tempos this year,” Harden continued. “We’ll be able to play fast paced or slow it down. And that will give us a good chance to be successful.”
Just like a year ago, the starting lineup is likely to change often as players improve and work their way into bigger roles. Nobody is guaranteed a starting spot, said Harden.
“We probably had 13 different starting lineups last year. And we’ll probably go through a few changes in our lineup this year, too,” he said. “By the end of December we expect some roles to be cemented, but of course those roles can always change because we expect our guys to continually get better and make improvements.”
While naming a starting lineup weeks before the season starts is not something he can do, Harden expects his three seniors, David Jump, Chaz Jordan and J.J. Fernandez, to shoulder a large part of the load.
“I have tremendous respect for our seniors,” he said. “It’s awful easy for someone to get up at 8 a.m. and come work out and lift and do two-a-days when you’ve been a part of a winning program and the gym is going to be full. But we don’t have that right now. But these three guys have decided that they want to start something here at Williamstown High School. And to me, that takes a lot of courage to do that and I have nothing but respect for all three of them. They are all three committed and it says a lot about their character. And I’m excited for them because I think we are going to have a wonderful season this year because of them.
“What they’ve done from last year until now is remarkable,” Harden continued about his seniors. “For them to be facing what they are looking at, and have the commitment, the audacity, and the character to say I’m going to lift twice a day. I’m going to play every day. We’re going all in. To me, that will be the personality of the team.”
While all of his players have stepped up and taken their game to a new level, guard David Jump is already making a name for himself around the region.
“I watch basketball all the time and I don’t know if I will ever coach a better shooter than David Jump,” Harden said. “David is an extraordinary shooter. He has more range this year. He has rounded his game out to where he now goes to the hole very well.
“He’s maybe the most underrated guard around,” Harden continued. “To me, he’s one of the best guards, if not the best guard, in the 8th Region. I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him shoot the rock. I’ve seen him take it to the hole. He’s grown both on the floor and off and he’s definitely going to play college basketball somewhere at some level. He’s a sleeper. Not a lot of people know about him, yet.”
While most will judge Harden and his team only by wins and losses, the Williamstown coach gauges success differently. To the former UK standout, success is as much to do with what you accomplish off the court as it does what you accomplish on the hardwood.
“We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” said Harden. “But I’m especially proud of the way we represent ourselves when we go out into other communities. I’m proud of who we are. And no matter if we win or lose, its not going to define if we had a successful season or not. It’s weather or not we got everything we could out of what we have.”