Despite high hopes during their regular seasons for the past few years, a deep playoff run in their rugged section has eluded the Central High School boys’ basketball teams. This year, coach Scott Howell has a feeling that could change.

“It’ll all start on the defensive end for us,” Howell said. “I like our chances in our section. We’ve gotten better of late and we want to continue to.”

The Minutemen were sailing along through March 12 with a 10-1 record, their only loss coming to Johnson by three points at the end of January.

According to Howell, this year’s team may not have much height, but it’s quick and athletic. The Minutemen, who average about 67 points a game, aren’t much for slowing the pace of play. “We’re up-tempo,” he said. “We want to get up and down the floor.”

Central has been restricted to playing only conference foes during the regular season due to the coronavirus. It lost its first meeting with Johnson 65-62 and had 31 turnovers in the defeat.

The Minutemen rebounded in the rematch to win 70-56 and only turned the ball over 11 times. “We took on that second game well,” Howell said. “Anytime you play Johnson, it’s a signature game.”

 

Central basketball
Ka’Jon Jordan goes up against Como Park’s Jountay Kibble during Central’s 81-50 road win on March 6. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Central also logged an impressive 58-40 win over a tough Highland Park team in early February that epitomized their stingy defense.

“Highland has some size and they have some shooters who can definitely make you pay,” Howell said. “But we defended and rebounded a lot better against their three-pointers than we have in the past. We played well from beginning to end in that game.”

The Minutemen have a balanced offense that doesn’t focus on any one player. Senior forward Kaden Doram and senior guard Gavin Gothard were both averaging in double figures. Howell considers them almost mirror images of the same player.

“Kaden and Gavin have been our most steady players,” he said. Doram adds some muscle on the boards, while Gothard is an outside threat who can hit three-pointers.

Junior guard Gedeon Musabyimana was leading the team with around 16 points a game. “He shoots the ball well,” Howell said. “If you leave him alone, he’ll hit it.”

“We have a potential first-round match against East Ridge,” Howell said. “They have guys who are 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5. We have to continue to play big.”

Senior forward Donnie Preston handles a lot of the work down low, was also scoring in double figures and invariably comes up big when defending the other team’s top offensive threat.

Howell raved about Preston’s recent play, especially in the February 23 win over Johnson. “(Preston) has probably been our MVP the last two weeks,” Howell said.

Junior forward Jaylen Cardenas plays tough down low as well and is especially effective as a rebounder.

Howell is fine with rotating in nine players. Eighth-grade guard Allan Lankford has been effective off the bench and his minutes continue to grow. “He’s earned it,” Howell said. “He’s been a big surprise for us.”

Sophomore Ka’Jon Jordan, senior A.J. Taylor and junior Jakobe Baer-Taki are reserve guards who also see action in their roles of holding up Central’s defensive end.

Though Howell likes the way his players have been performing, he knows they’ll need to continue to improve to make a playoff run. Central’s lack of size might prove to be a handicap against some teams when the Section 4AAAA playoffs begin this week.

“We have a potential first-round match against East Ridge,” Howell said. “They have guys who are 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5. We have to continue to play big.”

— Bill Wagner

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