High school basketball is slated to return in Kentucky next week, but Jefferson County Public Schools teams will need to wait.

On Dec. 10, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association verified an earlier November choice to start the season on Jan. 4. But the next day, JCPS revealed that due to the high level of community spread out with COVID-19, it would not reveal when its schools could even resume practice until after New Year’s Day.

For James Schooler, coach of the Fern Creek boys basketball team, one of the JCPS groups waiting for the thumbs-up, when the season starts does not matter.

” Whenever our start is, that’s when our start is,” he said. “When somebody’s else’s beginning begins is where their beginning starts. However, at the end, it all ends at the exact same time. And at the end, my group will be all set to contend.”

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That’s how last season ended for Schooler’s Tigers. They won 21 of their final 22 games to declare their third regional title in 4 years. The pandemic, however, kept them and the other 15 local champs from getting to the Sweet 16 and crowning a champ.

This season finds the Tigers among the leading teams in the state. The Carrier Journal’s preseason coaches’ survey ranks Fern Creek 5th. Last year’s group only had one senior, and even with post gamer Zek Montgomery’s transfer, Schooler has an exceptionally deep group of nine senior citizens prepared for another run.

How skilled are the Tigers? They feature 3 senior citizens ranked among Kentucky’s top 25 gamers in point guard Jaden Rogers, post gamer Darrius Washington and forward CeArius Warren.

The 6-foot Rogers is a scoring danger. He led the group with a 16.5-point average last season and broke the 1,000-point mark in his career. While he normally plays point guard, Schooler stated he’s wanting to get him some time at the two-guard. That would allow him to move without the ball.

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” The thing with Jaden is we require him to be able to score sometimes, and sometimes when he’s facilitating and getting everybody else the ball, he can’t,” the coach said, “That’s where the enhancement of (juniors) Darian Lewis and Jaden Schuller are really going to pay advantages to us since now we can in fact let Jaden step out.”

While Montgomery averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, Washington and Warren need to be able to fill that void. The 6-8 Washington, a Western Carolina signee, balanced 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds. Warren, at 6-6, pitched in 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds a video game, and both shot better than 59 percent.

That combination of skill and depth gives Schooler the high-end of not requiring to begin when other teams do. He said the kids currently understand the system, so while waiting for practice to start, Schooler said the focus has been on psychological preparation.

” Today, this is the finest chemistry of any group that I believe I have actually had at Fern Creek, and I have actually had some really good teams with great chemistry,” he said.

That chemistry assisted in the spring as well as the season ended prematurely.

It was still tough to take, however Schooler and his staff helped put the matter into point of view.

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” What’s more crucial, the state competition or making sure that we as society stay safe?” Schooler stated he told the kids. “So we made it through that. And now, with this season pressed back, we’ve needed to include various inspirational tools simply to keep the kids in tune and in line with the larger photo.”

So, whenever the season begins – and ends – Schooler’s confident his kids will be ready.