ROSEMOUNT — Truth be told, the Clay Panther basketball programs —both boys and girls — are in rebuilding mode.
Both struggled last season with youth movements underway at Clay, and their new head coaches admitted the upcoming campaign will again resemble a fountain of youth.
But coaching is about — or should be about in part — teaching and developing, and those will be two tasks ahead of both Bobby Blanton and Drew Emnett.
Both Blanton for the Clay boys and Emnett for the Lady Panthers were hired in April as the next Clay coaches —with Blanton taking over for Garrick “Tiny” Anderson and Emnett for Scott Artis.
The Panther boys went just 4-19 last season and graduated four seniors, while unfortunately the Clay ladies went winless.
Blanton — also the Clay tennis coach — has previous head coaching experience, having coached at his alma mater and fellow Southern Ohio Conference Division I school Green in the early half of the previous decade.
Blanton played under “old-school style” coach Kevin Lewis at Green —as the Bobcats enjoyed successful seasons in the mid-1990s.
He has served as an assistant at Clay for the past five years, including for all three of Anderson’s seasons in charge.
Blanton said familiarity with the Panther players, both on the basketball floor and even the tennis courts, has helped smooth the transition.
Although Clay will be youthful yet again, the new bench boss said his Panthers’ playing and practicing hard already are early positive signs.
Like several Scioto County programs, the Panthers are involved in summer shootouts and/or summer scrimmages in June and July.
“So far, the transition is going really well. We’re having fun, they’re (Panthers) learning and they like to be in the gym which is a good thing. I know their personalities and outside of basketball, I’ve coached some of them in tennis, so they are good kids which like to stay busy and work hard. It’s been helpful to already know what the culture is and what the background and history is. The kids like to show up and be in the gym and it’s a group that likes basketball,” said Blanton. “We’re still young. Looking at maybe two seniors on this year’s team with the majority of them being a large sophomore class. They are getting experience and learning, and just getting stronger physically and competing is the big thing. We’re really pushing to playing hard. Effort and intensity are the two things that I look at all the time. I think we’ll surprise some people just with our effort and physical play.”
Improved effort and playing hard for all 32 minutes is something Emnett is emphasizing —as although he has never coached on the high school level, he has been involved with and around basketball for years.
“One thing we have to do is compete harder and play hard every night. No matter what the score is. We have to build a culture of toughness and playing hard. I want us to play hard, and I want the girls to make the community and school proud to come out and support us,” he said. “We want to build this program back. It wasn’t too long ago that there was some good girls basketball being played here.”
The 1993 Portsmouth West High School and 1997 Morehead State University graduate has helped officiate and coach at lower levels, including in Clay’s junior high program last season.
While six seniors graduated from last season’s Lady Panthers, and only one is expected to return, the youth within the program was an attraction point for Emnett.
“I spent a lot of time watching last year, and there’s some really good talent in the lower grades here. If we can just foster that, grow the numbers and keep them interested as they come up through are my goals. I am looking forward to working with the girls,” added Emnett. “Getting to know the girls has been good. I had the junior high girls last year here, so I know all of the younger ones and getting to know the older ones has gone well. A lot of them have been in here and are working hard.”
And, the gym is where the Lady Panthers —because of their youth and with Emnett installing new defensive and offensive philosophies and instilling new attitudes — have spent their entire summer.
He said they haven’t participated in any summer shootouts or leagues, but basic open-gym time is key.
Emnett also said that Brian Jenkins will be his varsity assistant and junior varsity coach.
“I thought we would be better off to get in the gym and work on things we want to put in place. I want to get to know them and they get to know me,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of drills, and I’ve noticed a lot of improvements in several of them already just in open gyms. “All we can do is work hard and try to get better.”
It has helped both Panther programs that this offseason includes no restrictions because of the coronavirus threat, whereas last season it was overly challenging —and often impacted negatively young teams’ development.
“It’s been nice to actually get in the gym and have other teams come in and be able to have some scrimmages and not have to worry about all the extra things that went into last year. Last year, we were limited in the summer to only four in the gym at one time. This year, we can have the whole team in, so we’ve done a lot more team stuff,” said Blanton. “It’s been good to get back to normal, and I think the kids are having fun and enjoying it. It’s been a good time so far.”
A good time to date this summer, and hopefully for the Panther programs, good things are abound on the Rosemount horizon.
“I think there’s a lot of good things coming up, a lot of good younger kids here at Clay,” said Emnett. “I want to try this and see what we can build here.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved