Any questions regarding Cody Messer being the right man for the job to lead Barbourville High School’s basketball program are, at the very least, a lot less frequent these days after the first-year head coach guided the Tigers to back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time in three years.
Barbourville opened the Messer era with an impressive win over Whitley County, 46-42. Whitley is a much larger school than Barbourville with nearly five times as many students (1,100 to 230).
The Tigers followed it up with a thrilling 69-66 victory over Middlesboro, a team that is considered by many to be the front runner for the All A 13th Region title.
And with the two victories, Barbourville is starting to gain confidence in themselves and respect from others.
“Whitley is a big, physical team. And they are a big school,” said Messer. “Any time, as a Class A school, you play a school that much bigger than you and get the win, its a definite confidence booster.
“Considering that we have some players who had never played a varsity minute coming into the year, for us to pick up two quality wins against two key opponents is huge for us,” added Messer. “Those two wins really helped kick start things for the guys. It shows them that what we are trying to do, is working. And it helps them buy in when they see the success.
“These guys have not had a lot of success lately,” continued the Tigers’ coach. “So we are very happy to start the season like we have. I believe once these guys get over that hump that they will see, the harder they work, the more they buy in to what we are doing, the more success we will have.”
While the early success is nice, it has not come easy, according to Messer, who took over as head coach at the start of the summer, replacing Derek Collins.
“We graduated seven seniors last year and we knew coming in it would be tough to replace them,” stated Messer. “So we spent a lot of time this off-season in the weight room and went heavy on the individual workouts. And it is really paying off for us. We can see a difference.
“Our bodies are where they need to be,” continued Messer. “And that makes a big difference when you don’t have a lot of depth.”
There are many keys to continued success for the Tigers, including not letting up or getting satisfied. And, of course, the younger guys getting up to speed is another factor.
“The keys for us will be how well the younger guys step in and fill voids for us,” commented Messer. “Our older guys are going to have to lead and make sure our younger guys know what is going on. But our younger guys are going to have to rise to the occasion.”
While depth is an issue for the Tigers, the number of players capable of leading the team is not with any of the five starters capable on any given night.
Junior Shawn Vaughn led eight total player in scoring in Barbourville’s season-opening win over Whitley. He hit nine of 12 shots for 19 points while leading the way under the boards with a team-high eight rebounds.
Matthew Gray was next for the winners with seven points, followed by Connor Bain with five, John McVey four, Dylan Bingham, Jordan Collins, and Jacob Helton three each, and Dakota Tye two.
After Vaughn, it was Bain and Helton with five rebounds each, followed by Jordan Collins with three, and Bingham, Gray, and McVey one apiece.
In the win over Middlesboro, a trio of Tigers reached double digits, led by Gray with 17. Vaughn was next with 15, followed by Bain with 11.
McVey and Helton both barely missed double figures with nine and eight, respectively. Bingham chipped in seven, while Jordan Collins rounded out the scoring with two.
Gray and Helton both had five rebounds each to lead Barbourville. McVey added four, followed by Vaughn with three, Bain two, and Dakota Tye one.
Barbourville will face its first out-of-region opponent on Dec. 6 when it travels to Hazard. Two days later, Jenkins visits Barbourville, followed by games with Williamsburg, Red Bird, Somerset and Harlan before the Christmas break begins.
Messer said while he recognizes the toughness of the schedule and realizes the risk it poses to his team’s won-loss record, he would not have it any other way.
“Our schedule is something we take pride in,” he said. “We didn’t schedule teams every night that we are better than. We’re playing some teams that we will be the underdogs and not have a great shot of winning. We want to be prepared at the end of the year. That is what counts.”
Also upcoming for the Tigers is their first taste of district play, which is scheduled for Dec. 27 at Pineville in the Pine Mountain Classic.
But a big date on the Tigers’ schedule is Jan. 12 when Barbourville takes on Harlan in first-round action of the All A Classic at Pineville High School. The small school tournament is something Barbourville always looks forward to as a true measuring stick of where it stands against its peers.
“One thing about the All A this year, there is no cakewalk to the finals,” Messer said “If you win it, you are really going to have to play well and not take any games off. Winning it is one of our goals.”