Boys’ basketball team hopes to reload, not rebuild, in 2015-16


The Manual crowd anticipates a three from Chris West (#3). He misses and Jake Chilton (#34) grabs the rebound.

Jack Grossman

After losing six seniors, five of them starters, from the 2014-15 season, the Crimson Boys’ Basketball team will hope to reload, not rebuild, in the 2015-16 season.

“My expectations haven’t changed from this year to last year,” Head Coach Jimmy Just said. “I still think that we have a chance to be really good.”

The most notable Crimson that needs to be replaced from last year’s squad is Dwayne Sutton (Class of 2015). Sutton led the city of Louisville in scoring in 2014-15, averaging 24.1 points per game, as well as 12.1 rebounds per game in route to becoming a Mr. Basketball nominee and a unanimous first team All-State selection.

“We’re not going to replace individuals,” Just said. “We know that we got guys like Dwayne Sutton (Class of 2015), who have brought a lot to the table, but we got guys who have been waiting in the wings, and they’re going to do the things that they do well. Everybody is going to have to do their job. We lack some experience but we have kids that are very capable, and in time they will figure out what they need to do in order to be successful. We’ll score in different ways.”

Senior forward Marquis McClendon (12, #23) and guards Steven Gordon (12, #21) and Jo Aunn Rivers (12, #20) are primed to be key players to Manual’s success in the upcoming season.

“Of the guys that we got out there right now Stevie Gordon has done really well, and our seniors right now in general; they’re kids that we’re expecting a lot out of,” Just said. “We got Marquis McClendon and we got Jo Aunn Rivers and all those three have been out there with us right now. Other than that we got a little bit of mixture of juniors, they’re still trying to figure some things out for us, and we got some pretty talented sophomores, but they’re still young, give it some time and it’ll be a really special group. We got a few seniors that we’ll be adding to the mix from the football team, and we’ll see how it all works out.”

The Crimsons will also add an interior presence, which is something that Manual lacked last season. Noah Hawkins (10, #42) should be able to give Manual a consistent threat in the low-post.

“We gave Noah a lot of time in the summer, and he showed that he’s capable of doing a few things for us,” Just said. “The big thing with us is making sure that we don’t expect too much from him early, we just need to keep bringing him along. He’s done a nice job, I think that the summer let him know that he is capable at playing at this level as a sophomore, and that we need him to do that so that we have a little bit of a post presence; hopefully that will open up some things on the perimeter. I like what we got right now and I think that we have some depth to go with it.”

Manual should be more athletic this season, which will lead to a more up-tempo, defensive-minded team.

“Our team actually runs up and down the court more,” McClendon said. “Our defensive side is going to be tough because we have more scrappy people. We’re that team that will actually get into you.”

Even with losing six seniors, Manual seems to maintain strong team chemistry.

“I feel like our team is more of a team this year,” McClendon said. “We’ve been together. Me, Jo Aunn, Steven, we’ve played together a lot, so I feel like we’ll have more team chemistry going on.”

Manual has talent, but Just is preaching patience to allow this team to blend and develop.

“I like what we have right now, but we’re still a work in progress,” Just said. “Last year’s group was good in a lot of different ways, and this year’s group is good in a few different ways. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but I think this year’s group will get along really well and I think that they’ll play hard for each other.”

However, the Crimsons do not have much time to develop. Manual will start the season with one of the toughest early season slates of any team in Kentucky. Manual’s will open the season on December 1 at seventh-ranked Waggener, who is the preseason pick to win the Region 7 title. The Crimsons then get a rematch of the 2015 Region 7 title game with ninth-ranked Ballard on December 4. The Bruins beat the Crimsons 67-60 in the 2015 Region 7 finals. Ballard has won two of the last three Region 7 championships. The other team to claim a Region 7 title in the last three years is 10th-ranked Trinity, who the Crimsons will play 11 days later on December 15. Add in appearances in the PRP Classic and the Bardstown Tip-off Classic in between the Ballard and Trinity games and it is clear that a lot will be found out about this Manual team in the first two weeks of the season.

“I think that playing people like that all year long is a good thing,” Just said. “It does nothing but help our guys know where we’re at throughout the year, especially early. It will definitely get our attention and let us know what we need to be doing to be successful. We got Ballard, but we also have Waggener and Trinity early too, and those teams should be very good competition for us.”

The Crimsons are picked to finish eighth in Region 7. Last season, Manual made its first regional final since 2000; however, the Crimsons believe that they can make it back to the regional finals and beyond. Manual has not won the region since 1972.

“I don’t want to say the underdogs exactly, but somebody who works hard and competes with everybody,” McClendon said. “ Really don’t overlook any teams because we’ve got enough players, enough power, to really play with anybody.”

Even though Manual is picked to finish eighth, Region 7’s talent level is down from last season, which could allow the Crimsons to make a run. Throughout the region, defending champ Ballard lost four starters, including Mr. Basketball nominee Jaylen Perry, and Trinity is moving on from eight seniors, including current University of Louisville player Raymond Spalding. With the talent drain in effect in the Metro area this season, expect there to be more parity around the region.

“I realize that we aren’t going to be as consistent as some other teams, but I’m not sure how good some of these other teams are going to be quite yet until we actually get a chance to see them play,” Just said. “I expect Ballard to be pretty good, but they don’t have any big names, but they have an awful good guard [Jamil Wilson (11, #22)] coming back who was a sophomore last year; he’s going to be a phenomenal player for them. I think we’ll be in the mix, in that top group.”

If Manual can successfully replace last season’s six seniors, the Crimsons could give the upper echelon of the Seventh Region a run for their money to earn the right to play for the state championship at Rupp Arena in March.

“I think that the school will have the same expectations that the kids do, and I think that because we lost a lot of seniors we won’t have the same opportunities that we did last year,” Just said. “I think that we have a great opportunity to be successful, hopefully people will be a little patient with us because I don’t know what’s going to happen early. We have very capable kids, and if the school gets behind them like I think they will, we may have a chance to go to Rupp and that’s my expectation, and that’s what I think that everyone else’s expectations are.”

The Crimson basketball season will tip off at Waggener on December 1, at 7:30 p.m. Stay tuned to RedEye for coverage of the Manual Boys’ basketball team all season long.