In a season where no one knew what to expect or what the next day would bring, Justin Becker stayed focused on the task at hand.
When he found out he had just won his second consecutive 10th Region Coaches Association Player of the Year award earlier this week, the Robertson County junior just counted his blessings and didn’t really catch him by surprise.
“I was kind of in the middle, not really surprised, not trying to be cocky or anything, but didn’t think I’d get it two years in a row,” Becker said. “Just put everything to the side and focused on basketball this year. It wasn’t the same this year, but I stayed focused on getting in the gym and working on my game.”
The confident junior is aware of his abilities. Becker is approaching heights in Mt. Olivet never really seen before with his work ethic, knack for scoring the basketball and ability to use his 6-foot-6 frame to pull down rebounds.
Another star-studded season had him clear the 2,000 point marker for his career (currently with 2,090 points) and most recently grabbed his 800th career rebound. The only thing it looks like that will keep him of joining the rarefied air of the 3,000 point, 1,000 rebound club in KHSAA history is another pandemic, having this season cut well shy of their normal allotment of 30 regular season games with just 17 played.
He’s now just 238 points shy of the all-time school individual scoring record set by Kyle King with 2,328 points.
“The part that people outside of us don’t see is the work ethic Justin possesses every day. He comes in an hour early every day, hits the weight room and works on his game. He’s great for the school too, he shows up and supports the girls team, shows his character on and off the floor and what you want a student-athlete to be,” Black Devils coach Patrick Kelsch said.
Becker’s helped the Black Devils obtain the first of their three goals they want to achieve this season. A 10th Region All “A” title was the first step, just the second in program history, a 38th District title is the next step that will begin next week and they’re hopeful a shot at the third step with a chance to win a 10th Region title and head to Rupp Arena for the first time in school history.
With a senior heavy team, seven of the top eight players that have played at least 14 games, it’s the junior Becker who drives the bus.
“That senior class we have is strong willed and a strong group and they way they look at Justin as a leader, tells you what the seniors think of Justin too,” Kelsch said.
He leads the team and the region in scoring with 26.3 points per game and does so with so much efficiency, hitting 67.9 percent of his shots. While his 3-point shot hasn’t gone in at the clip it did last year, Becker has taken on the burden of getting more rebounds, upping his total to 10.1 per game.
In 16 games played this season, he has a double-double in 12 of them.
“I feel like my game on the inside got better and I credit that to getting more athletic over the summer. I’m jumping higher and my athleticism is better. Maybe my shot isn’t falling as much, but I’m still going to shoot and keep my shot going,” Becker said.
As they approach the postseason with a 12-5 record and looking to win back-to-back district titles, Becker doesn’t feel any added pressure with such a senior-laden team. He knows he can count on the guys if teams put a lot of the focus on him and they’ve shown they’re more than capable with three others averaging double figures in Sebastian Dixon, Tanner Horn and Brandon Dice. All three were All-Region honorable mention selections.
“No pressure added. They know they can do it if I’m not there, they showed it earlier this season when I was out for a game. A lot of where we are is because of them, without the seniors we wouldn’t be here,” Becker said.
The Black Devils will begin their postseason push on Monday when they play at Pendleton County in the 38th District Semifinals. Robertson County knocked off the Wildcats once this season, 68-55 on Feb. 26.
“It’s been a crazy year, anyone can beat anyone they want to on any given night. We have to go in thinking it could be our last game. We lose we’re done. We can’t look at their record or who they got, we got to do us,” Becker said.
HENRY FIRST TEAM, MITCHELL THIRD
The Royals highly successful season came with some honors for Mason County’s Terrell Henry and Nate Mitchell. Henry was selected to the First Team All-Region on Monday. The sophomore has been the most consistent for a Royals team that went 16-3 during the regular season. Henry averaged 20.6 points and 7.7 rebounds for the 16-3 Royals, ending the regular season on a 11-game winning streak. Henry showed his playmaking ability all over the floor, knocking down 54 percent of his shots, 47 percent of his 3-point attempts and knocking down 74 percent from the line.
The sophomore is just scratching the surface and has Region Player of the Year potential in his future.
Henry’s teammate Nate Mitchell was selected to the Third Team All-Region after a season in which he broke out his junior year with 17.4 points per game. Mitchell was relied on for the majority to run the offense and showed how tough he could be once he got downhill and into the paint with the ability to finish.
During the Royals 11-game winning streak, Mitchell took his game to another level with 18.5 points per game during the streak.
One snub to mention goes to Mason County’s AP Perry. The Royals senior has been a vital part to their season and didn’t even receive honorable mention honors. He’s averaging 11.5 points per game and shooting 51 percent from the 3-point line on 102 attempts. He’s a vital part to their relentless defense and uptempo style they possess. There’s others, but Perry’s snub from any sort of mention to the team was the most glaring to me.
HINSON SECOND TEAM, MASTIN HONORABLE MENTION
Augusta’s Kason Hinson put together another solid season for the Panthers, leading the team in scoring with 21 points per game and second in rebounds with 6.5 per game. Hinson knocked down 50 percent of his shots and 78 percent from the free throw line, often the creator of an Augusta offense that averages 69.1 points per game.
Teammate Riley Mastin fit in immediately with his new team and put up 16.2 points and 8.5 rebounds this season. The Panthers big man was vital on the boards for Augusta and showed his ability to knock down shots, shooting at a 57 percent clip from the field and 37 percent from the 3-point line. If he gets fouled, it’s almost an automatic two points, knocking down 87 percent from the charity stripe.
REED THIRD TEAM, JEFFERSON HONORABLE MENTION
Bracken County’s Blake Reed showed his ability to score regardless of the competition the Polar Bears faced this season. The freshman guard poured in 22.6 points per game this season despite seeing multiple defensive looks from a highly competitive schedule and knocked down 83 3-pointers at a 36 percent clip.
Reed has already cleared 1,500 career points in three years of playing varsity basketball and looks well on his way to 3,000 and beyond, as well as the school’s all-time mark set by Austin Crawford with 3,194 points. Reed currently has 1,580 points.
Senior Nathan Jefferson made honorable mention, the Polar Bears senior asked to play out of position on many nights and bang in the post. He responded with 7.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and dealt with the task of guarding the opponents biggest and most physical player.
WALTON HONORABLE MENTION
St. Patrick’s Chase Walton received honorable mention honors with a double-double average this season of 16.1 points and 11.1 rebounds. Despite the Saints struggles this season with a 1-21 record, Walton was a mainstay in the stat line.
PAYNE SECOND TEAM
Mason County’s Rachel Payne was the Lady Royals most consistent player for the second year in a row and was awarded an All-Region Second Team honor by the 10th Region Coaches Association on Tuesday.
Payne leads the Lady Royals with 13.2 points and second on the team in rebounds with 5.5 rebounds. She’s effective at the line at 73 percent and averages two steals per game defensively.
HUGHES THIRD TEAM, MCKAY HONORABLE MENTION
St. Patrick’s Allison Hughes is third in the region in scoring and landed herself on the All-Region third team. The Lady Saints junior is averaging 18.3 points per game this season and is second on the team in rebounding with 5.7 a night. She enters the postseason with 1,275 points scored for her career.
Hughes’ teammate Caroline McKay received honorable mention recognition. McKay leads the region in assists with 4.6 per game on top of her 9.2 point per game average. McKay has knocked down a team-high 29 3-pointers this season and the sophomore has hit 71 percent of her free throw attempts.
KIEFER GIRLS’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Bishop Brossart’s Marie Kiefer was named the girls’ 10th Region Coaches Association Player of the Year. The Ball State commit was flat out dominant this season with 20.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 2.5 steals per game. She was in the top 10 in the region in points (1st), field goal percentage (4th), rebounds (1st), blocks (1st) and steals (9th).
Not only the region, but Kiefer is a Miss Basketball candidate as well, helping the Lady ‘Stangs to a 16-5 regular season record.
HIGH GIRLS’ COACH OF THE YEAR
What Dustin High has done in two seasons at Montgomery County is quite the turnaround. The prior five seasons of High’s arrival, the Lady Indians went 39-109 with five straight exits in the first round of the district tournament. In two seasons under High’s guidance, the Lady Indians are 28-17 and looking like one of the top three or four teams in the region at the moment.
He was awarded with the 10th Region Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award on Tuesday, guiding the Lady Indians to a 12-4 record in the regular season as they approach what might be the game of the week next week in the region when they take on Paris to open the 40th District Tournament.