by Andrew Hatton
CVT Sports Writer
Returning for his seventh season with the Engineers, Coach Jon Bentley is looking to capture his third district title during his Estill tenure. With the season kicking off, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the 2016/17 edition of the Engineers.
FAMILIAR CAST OF CHARACTERS
One of the drawbacks to last season was the lack of seniors, but it was perhaps by design. While the young team struggled at times last season, they learned from those struggles and grew. Now, with every starter and primary contributor returning, Estill is primed for a breakout season.
Leading scorer Caleb Bonny is set to pick up where he left off. In his sophomore season, the dynamic guard eclipsed the 1,000-point mark. Averaging over 21 PPG, Bonny was Mr. Consistent for the Engineers.
As he continues to grow and develop, we can only expect him to get better and more efficient. He will continue to be the primary concern for opposing defenses, that’s why Estill must continue to search for a solution to last season’s main issue, which is finding a secondary scoring threat.At various times throughout last season, different players would step up to provide double-digit scoring efforts. But the issue was with consistency; no other player averaged over 8 PPG.
Perhaps that secondary scorer will be freshman PG Joe Benton or junior C Andrew Doty. Last season Andrew Doty averaged almost eight points and four rebounds per game. Benton averaged just under seven points per game and orchestrated the offense as an eighth grader.
Although he is only a freshman, Benton is in his second year as a starter and third as a significant contributor for the Engineers. He has the ability to knock down shots from outside and is one of the best passers Estill County has seen in recent years.
Senior Hunter Osborne also returns for the Engineers. Osborne, you could say, is the engine that drives this team. His effort on the defensive end and passion with which he leads the team make him stand out without having to light up the scoreboard. Hunter provided Estill with some big performances down the stretch last season, and so the Engineer faithful can only hope for more of the same.
THE WEATHER UP THERE
One thing the Engineers have had over the past two seasons that they had lacked for a period of time is size. This team features four players over 6’5”, so not only is their height in the starting lineup, but more coming off the bench as well.
Andrew Doty is the primary member of the frontcourt. The junior big man has developed a great set of skills over the past few years and can score in a variety of ways.
He and his twin brother Lane have both shown the ability to make an impact on games. The coaching staff is excited about the prospects of this duo, if they can only find the killer instinct and toughness needed to dominate down low.
Luke Barnett is perhaps one of the most improved players from the end of last season to the start of this one. The senior forward has battled for minutes over the past few years, but appears to have worked his way into the starting lineup discussion.
Barnett provides great length and has a nice mid-range jump shot for his size. He can be a bit fiery at times and could provide a nice spark that this team may be lacking.
The wildcard from this group of big men is Robert Tipton. The biggest and most physically imposing player on the roster, Tipton has shown the ability to dominate the paint.
Whether it be blocking, dunking, grabbing a big rebound or coming up with a crucial put-back, Robert can do it all. The problem is his consistency. Tipton appears to lose focus at times and doesn’t always play with high energy.
The play of this unit is key to the success of this year’s team. If the bigs are playing well, this time will win. And one of the primary players to watch from this group is Robert Tipton.
“If (Robert) comes in playing hard, he can be a game changer,” said freshman guard, Joe Benton.
The early word out of preseason was that there were a handful of players that had improved drastically from last season. But one name kept coming up no matter whom you talked to. Kevin Richardson appears to have grabbed the attention of his coaches and teammates.
Kevin is entering his junior season as one of Estill’s primary guards off the bench. After fighting for minutes through his first few years, it seems as though he’s finally made a jump and caught the attention of those around him.
A streaky shooter, Kevin could be huge for the Engineers if he can provide quality minutes in place of Benton or Bonny. And if Estill decides to go with a small lineup then the three quality ball-handlers could play together.
Another Richardson could make an impact for the Engineers as well. Trey Richardson, a senior guard, has fought to earn minutes from Coach Bentley. Trey has been known to knock down shots from outside and could become a key part of a rotation that helps keep fresh legs on the floor for Estill.
CALL THE GUYS IN VEGAS
Not going to try to handicap the 56th District Boys Basketball Championship here. Don’t know what the odds are for Owsley to shock us all and grab the title (20-1, maybe?). But the Engineers have to like their chances.
After reaching the title game last season, Estill fell to Powell County 61-45. Since that moment, the Pirates had four key contributors graduate. The Engineers brought the entire band back.
It certainly won’t be a cakewalk nor will it be easy, it never has been. But Coach Bentley and his staff have been building something here, and we could be close to seeing the finished product.