MOREHEAD – Denied the chance to compete in the Sweet 16 last year because of the coronavirus, many saw Ashland’s 62-58 victory over Rowan County in the 16th Region championship as a day of destiny, a payback for what was taken away from them last March.
How else can you explain a rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter with your playmaker supreme relegated to being a cheerleader with more than 6 minutes to play?
Improbable? You betcha.
Destiny? Well maybe.
Something else? Read on.
As much as it was easy to feel good for those Tomcats who get their chance to play in the Sweet 16 next week, I still feel for Justin Bradley, Ethan Hudson and Nolan Phillips – three 2020 seniors who had so much to do with Ashland’s 33-0 season – because their destiny ended in limbo. Talk about March Madness, that was the epitome.
Now I’m sure, knowing the three of them, they cheered their guts out on Saturday. Probably nobody wanted the Tomcats to win more than them. But I still feel bad for those young men who were so vital and had a memory for a lifetime taken away because of a virus that has taken so much away from all of us.
It’s good that some of these other key players – Cole Villers, Colin Porter and Ethan Sellars – get their chance to be in the Rupp Arena spotlight. They deserved it last year and they will be able to take a bow next week and maybe finish a job they thought was left unfinished last year. And if you asked any of them today, they would say those three seniors from last year had a lot to do with what happened this season and even Saturday, when all hope looked lost.
Here’s why. They helped establish a new culture with Tomcat basketball. A culture where winning is all that matters on the court, where making the extra pass is better than scoring, where team means everything.
These Tomcats may not have been a mirror image of last year but they were pretty darn close in the things that matter. They love each other, they respect their opponent and they know how to represent their family, school and community with the most class I can ever remember any Tomcat team doing.
It’s not that Ashland had a lot of bad characters, they haven’t. But these kids are setting a standard of excellence on and off the court that hopefully will be duplicated for years to come. And if that happens, there will be more celebrations to come. More regional championships and trips to the state tournament. Success breeds success. They have the blueprint and it’s up to the coaches not only at the high school level but in middle school and below to follow the plan.
Ashland’s players aren’t in the face of their opponents, popping their jerseys or talking smack. They lift a hand out when somebody hits the deck. They give their opponents credit in the newspaper. And they aren’t afraid to share their faith (which I especially like). Good kids make for good experiences for parents, for fans and for a community. Kudos to coach Jason Mays for establishing a culture of excellence that shouldn’t be underestimated.
They are pretty good basketball players too. We’ve all enjoyed watching them compete and their will to win, well, you saw it on display again Saturday. It was an epic and historic comeback, one that I’m sure made Justin Bradley, Ethan Hudson and Nolan Phillips proud.
Knowing these Tomcats, I’m sure they will find a way to honor those three seniors when they take the floor next week against Knox Central. I know because that’s the kind of culture that exists with Ashland basketball these days.
Congratulations guys. You’re doing things right and it shows.