By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In nearly 40 years of coaching basketball, Lynn Long has seen a multitude of changes in the game.
“The game has changed in several ways,” said the Fair Play boys’ basketball coach. “When I started coaching, there was no 3-point shot; there was a jump ball every time the ball was tied up (no alternating possession); and teams got five timeouts of equal length.
“There also was not as much AAU or club ball in the summer, there were no competitive team camps or shootouts, so there were less problems of players being recruited or switching schools for athletic reasons (it happened, but not nearly as much). There were less televised games and no ESPN, so players didn’t try to mimic the spectacular plays like dunks, etc., and were probably more receptive to fundamentals and teamwork.”
But the one thing that hasn’t changed for Long, who is just seven wins shy of 700 (693-326), is his love for the game, whether he is coaching boys or girls.
“I have always loved basketball, teamwork and competition and I still enjoy seeing players work hard to improve, achieving a common goal and making a commitment to serve others and sharing in their successes,” Long said.
“Basketball is the same for boys and girls. The players that you enjoy the most are the ones who are committed, who work hard, who are great teammates and who accept challenges.”
Long, who has had stops at Skyline, Lebanon and now Fair Play, enters his ninth season at the Hornets’ helm with a 184-72 record.
The Hornets finished 20-9 overall and 4-3 in the Polk County League in 2016-17 and lost 60-50 to Greenwood in the Class 2, District 10 championship game. They won the Lakeland Tournament by beating state-ranked Hermitage, finished third in the Humansville Tournament and fourth in the Walnut Grove Holiday Tournament.
“I thought we had a good season and we continued to get better as the season progressed,” Long said.
But the Hornets have some big shoes to fill with the loss of four key players, three of them starters.
Camden Welch was a four-year starter who scored more than 1,600 points for his career, averaging 18.5 points and five rebounds per game last year, and was a first-team All-PCL selection.
“He was our leading scorer who always came up big in the big games,” Long said.
Devon Rovenstine was another four-year starter, who led the team in assists and steals while averaging 10 points and more than five assists per game. He was a second-team All-PCL pick.
“He was our floor leader,” Long said. “He was a smart player who was always under control.”
Ryan Rutledge was a three-year starter who averaged 11 ppg and led the team in 3-pointers with 67 and rebounds with 5.5 per game, as a second-team All-PCL selection. Mark Khadyrke was the other key contributor who Long described as a “great athlete and on-the-ball defender.”
The Hornets have five players returning, who logged a lot of minutes last season, including:
• Kohner Thomas – G/F – senior. Averaged 9 ppg. Described as a hard-nosed player, who is versatile and very strong.
• Justin Smith – Post – 6-foot-4 senior. Averaged 7.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Described as a very fast and athletic post player with good size.
• Justin Viles – P – 6-4 senior. Averaged 4 ppg and 4 rpg. Described as a big, strong post player, who has gotten better each year and has really improved a lot over the summer.
• Kendall Wright – G/F – 6-0 senior. Described as a strong player, who can play both inside or out. Played major minutes last year and averaged 4 ppg.
• Logan Underwood – G – 5-11 junior. Averaged 3.5 ppg and made 15 3s.
“We have a lot of experience, but we have several players who don’t have enough experience,” Long said. “We do not have a proven go-to scoring player, so we will have to see who steps up into that role.”
Long will be looking to four newcomers to contribute this year.
• Noah Rutledge – G – 6-2 junior. “A very good shooter who can also drive to the basket; a good passer who finds the open man; could be a major impact player this year.”
• Codey Shuler – G – sophomore. “A quick player who runs the floor very well, and could get a lot of steals for us this year. He is a good 3-point shooter, who can also drive to the basket. He could be the key to our defense.”
• Sam Khadryke – F – 6-2 senior. “An athletic post player who runs the floor very well. Sam is also a very good rebounder who plays hard and is a smart player.”
• Paddy Downs – P – 6-3 junior. “An athletic post player who is a very good rebounder and plays hard on defense.”
“All four of these players could make an impact on the varsity this season,” Long said. “They had a successful summer playing against varsity competition.
“They are good athletes who play hard and compete well. They will make big contributions to our team as soon as they gain some experience. I expect all of them to make an impact this year with some of them starting from the beginning of the year.”
Even with the loss of about 39.5 points per game on offense and a lot of varsity experience, the Hornets will have plenty of depth when they open the season Nov. 17 in the Humansville Tournament.
“I think we will steadily improve as we gain experience,” Long said. “I expect us to be a little quicker and more aggressive than last year. We will probably press more and play at a faster pace offensively than last year, and count on our depth to wear down our opponents.”