Rose Hill boys basketball may have felt like it was stuck in the movie “Karate Kid” after a 4-25 campaign last year.
However, the Royals’ 71-64 win over Fairview on Jan. 22 might have been as big as Daniel-san landing the crane kick to defeat Cobra-Kai leader Johnny in the All-Valley Karate Championship.
“The biggest win we had was over Fairview when we got our first district win we’ve had (since 2008-09),” Rose Hill coach Johnny Bush said. “We played our other district opponents well. We played Ashland really well at home for three quarters.”
Rose Hill defeated both Boyd County and Ashland in the same season in ’08-09. Bush knows plenty about those wins as they came during his senior season. It was also the last time the Royals secured a winning season, recording a 16-11 mark before bowing out to Ashland, 64-60, in the opening round of the districts.
Yet, this season, Bush believes this could be the year the Royals make the next step forward.
“I’ve had a great group of kids and a great group of seniors this year,” Bush said. “Everything I did last year was building for this year. A lot of teams we couldn’t compete with in the past, we can now compete with this year.”
Rose Hill had five contests end in losses decided by fewer than 10 points, including a 56-51 shortcoming to Fleming County on the road. Menifee County bettered them, 72-66, on Dec. 8 in Frenchburg, but the good news for the Royals this season: both teams travel to Rose Hill this year.
Even better news for the Royals is how their season opens up. They had wins over three of their first five opponents from last season.
“Right off the bat we have Fairview,” Bush said of the season opener on Dec. 5 in Westwood. “That’s a district opponent, and that’s going to really set the bar of where we want to go. If we can get a good district win right out of the gate, I think we will have a lot of good momentum and build for the Raceland tournament right before Christmas.”
Rose Hill plays Leslie County on Dec. 20 in the opening round of the Raceland Derby Classic. Leslie County finished 7-20 last season.
The toughest stretch for the Royals comes after the turn of the calendar year, playing both district tilts with Ashland and Boyd County bookending the opening-round matchup of the All “A” Classic with Bath County.
Rose Hill welcomes back five seniors to this year’s team, led by leading scorer Kenny Wilburn (16.9 points per game). Joining Wilburn will be Stephan Barker (12.7 ppg) and Trey Phelps (10.1 ppg).
“When I have guys like Trey and Stephen who can really shoot the ball, spreading the floor really opens the lanes for Kenny and it’s going to open up lanes for them,” Bush said. “Spacing is our main thing that’s going to create open shots for us.”
Bush also hopes to have cured the Royals’ biggest issue on the court last season — ball control.
“That was basically the scouting report against us last year was they don’t handle pressure very well and you can jump them,” Bush said. “I don’t see that being a problem this year. That’s really exciting as a coach.”
Bush may not have exactly used the “wax on, wax off” method for his squad in the offseason, but he believes running and trapping could lead to easy baskets for the Royals.
“This year we have five guys who can handle the ball at any point in time,” he said. “That allows us to make some changes in our offense where we can penetrate a lot more. I don’t have to worry about getting trapped.”
Wilburn agreed with his coach.
“I think we are really quick and can handle the ball,” Wilburn said. “We need to work on defense a little more. But other than that, I think we are a pretty solid team.”
Phelps believes Rose Hill has plenty to offer this season after returning all five starters.
“Our new guards coming up can offer a lot of play making abilities,” Phelps said. “I feel like they are able to participate a lot more than they used to. We’ve put in a lot of running in the offseason and I feel like shooting is going to be a large strength of ours.”
Wilburn looks to build off his team-high 49% shooting from the field last season by setting the example for everyone else around him to follow.
“One of the things he’s always brought, you guys never get to see this, but in practices he leads by example more than anybody else,” Bush said. “Every single time it’s a competition and if somebody beats him, they’re celebrating because it happens so rarely. He’s going to push the guys in that way in practice and on the court. He’s a leader but he holds himself to that same standard. If he’s not hitting shots, he knows he has to fix it.”
“Stephen Barker has beaten me a few times,” Wilburn grinned.
Bush admits his team goes as Wilburn goes, with good reason, as he’s tallied 788 points in only two seasons in the blue and silver.
Wilburn dropped 33 points in wins over Fairview and Covenant last season while hitting 66%of his shots in both contests.
“It’s kind of like seeing a man possessed,” Phelps said of Wilburn in the zone. “You just get him the ball and get out of the way. Make it as easy as possible for him.”
But Bush expects teams to try to take Wilburn away defensively, making some valuable experience Barker gained last year even more beneficial. Barker scored as many as 27 points in a single game last year.