RED JACKET – Mingo Central High School basketball coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson is not used to losing. Yet in his first year with the Miners he finds himself with a record of 1-11 at the midway point in the season.
Thompson was used to winning in Kentucky before moving back to the area and helping the Williamson Wolfpack to their last state title and guiding the Tug Valley Panthers to a pair of back-to-back state championships.
“We will have Daniel Buchanan and Aaron Banks back next season,” Thompson said of the rebuilding phase for Mingo Central. “Fletcher will be back and you have several other kids back. The bad thing is that I lose five seniors.”
“It’s been tough, but we have a couple of additions,” Thompson said. “We have a couple of more bullets – Canaan Fletcher (a 6-foot-5 freshman) and Stevie (Hammond) back from his shoulder injury. That should help us some.”
Hammond is a senior point guard who missed the first few games because of a shoulder injury suffered in football.
“The Cardinal Conference is tough. Plus our sectional and regional are both strong. You have Poca on the other side and you want to stay away from them,” Thompson said before a recent home game at the MCHS gym. “In our sectional we will probably have to beat Chapmanville or Scott to advance.”
“I’m sure we will have to be in the play-in game, which means we would have to win three games,” Thompson said of the upcoming first round of the Class AA tournament. If you are fortunate enough to do that, you’ll be playing the team that Poca will likely beat on their side.”
That would likely be Herbert Hoover or Sissonville, both have already beaten Mingo Central earlier in the season.
“This is not an easy way to go,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that the recruits/transfers that were brought in to Mingo Central, namely cousins Dikembe and Montrell Dixson – obviously helped them to the school’s first-ever state tournament appearance last March. But, with that, the school had some kids that wouldn’t play because of diminished playing time and other kids transferred to private schools. Two players for Ambassador Christian Academy in Williamson are former Miners, while another player left last season to go to Jamie Darin Christian Academy in Gilbert because of not getting much playing time.
The middle school programs from the feeder programs could send some kids to the new consolidated school. Many fans hope that Drew Hatfield, a current eighth grader starting at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County, Ky., will move back to the school district. Hatfield was the MVP last year as a seventh grader for Burch. He is also an outstanding quarterback in football.
Thompson said that the school is even losing kids at the middle school level to either Belfry or via the private school route.
“Making it to the state tournament is a positive, “ Thompson said. But hinted “at what cost” did the transfers hurt the program for long term success, rather than building a program with local talent. Like I have said before, it didn’t help us. Those kids that should have gotten experience or minutes – didn’t get those. Now some of those kids are gone – or not interested in playing.”
“I have two or three kids who didn’t play last year, so they don’t have much experience,” Thompson added. “It’s a tough way to go – I’m fighting to get it turned around.
He said knows that the rebuilding will be a 4-to-5-year process. He hinted that he hopes he has the patience to stay for that development.
“I’m working as hard as I’ve ever been,” Thompson concluded. “I’m trying to do the best I can. To be realistic – like the guy from the movie ‘We Are Marshall’ said, the ‘cupboard is pretty bare. I am hoping that the few seeds that I can sow now will help three or four years down the road.”
(Kyle Lovern is the Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)