Times Sports Editor
OLNEY, IL -- Tucked away in the cornfields of Illinois is the cozy town of Olney and within resides what has become a basketball home for a pair of Clay County products, Austin Akers and Will Kennedy.
The pair excelled at the high school level for Northview High School (Akers) and Clay City (Kenendy) and both are continuing their hoops careers at a school that supports their Olney Central Blue Knights much like their respective high school fans did in the Clay County community.
On Monday night, the pair took to the court for the opening game of their junior college careers as Olney Central rolled past visiting New Creations Prep out of Richmond, IN, 109 to 67 on the Knights' home court, known as The Dungeon. Six different Knights hit double-figures in scoring, including Akers, who scored all 14 of his points in the first half. Afterwards, Akers discussed what it was like getting his feet wet at the college level.
With a roster that includes players from nine different states as well as one from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Knights have a wealth of athletes and talent.
"All you have to do is throw it up and if you miss a shot they are all coming in to get it and that makes it easier," Akers said of running the point for a team with nine players listed at 6'4 or taller.
Akers got the start in the opener and played considerable minutes in the triple-digit scoring effort by Olney Central. In addition to his 14 points on five-of-eight shooting from the field, the 6'1 Akers had four assists, a steal and a rebound. He also admitted that playing in the uptempo system is a lot of fun, but mentioned that there is plenty of work that goes in to the Knights' style of play.
"Just working hard every day, we're lifting, going to classes and having two or three practices every day," Akers said of some of the main differences between high school and college. "It's a lot different. I've never scored over a 100 points (as a team), I didn't know the scoreboard hit that many, it's impressive."
For Kennedy, who was used to being one of the larger players on the court for Class A Clay City, the transition to another position and the step up in competition level has been the biggest change.
"The guys are so much more athletic and bigger, I was used to being the biggest guy on the court most nights and now almost everybody is bigger than me so I'm getting used to guarding bigger players especially the ones out on the wing," Kennedy said.
Akers was familiar with Olney Central's offensive schemes, which helped the transition to the college game, but admitted he's had to work harder to get playing time.
"Actually we run the same offense, Coach (Mike) Burris and (Northview) Coach (Ernie) Maesch are really similar coaches, they both work hard, they are both in you," Akers said. "Yeah I'm having fun here it's better than I thought it would be. They showed me on film in the first couple of days that I wasn't always playing defense and I had to run sprints for that so it's sticking in my head now that I have to play hard on both ends of the court."
In the season opener, the Blue Knights led 23-22 midway through the first half before Akers converted back-to-back driving layups and nailed a 3-pointer to give Olney Central a 30-24 lead. New Creations' Hayden Annett, of Portland Victoria, Australia, hit a 3-pointer, one of four in the first half for the sharpshooter, to narrow the lead to 32-28, but Olney Central sophomore, Aseante Roberts fueled an 11-2 run to build the Blue Knights lead.
Though Olney Central was at a size disadvantage against a New Creations team that started 6'10 Walter Pitchford, a DePaul commit and 6'8 Junior McLeod and had 6'9 Abdul Osman and 6'6 Liban Hassan coming off the bench, the Blue Knights countered by forcing 14 more turnovers (26 to 12) and outrebounding the visitors 34-30.
Kennedy saw action down the stretch and discussed his role with his new team as well as what he's liked so far.
"I just need to knock down the open shot, rebound especially because some of our guards can't rebound as well," Kennedy said. "I just need to play all out and I'm used to that with (former Clay City coach) McVay. I've always liked the run-and-gun and I always wanted coach McVay to let us do that, but at least I can do it here. I think we scored 90 points twice last year (at Clay City) and I though that was big, but we hit 100 on the first night here."
The Blue Knights hit the road to face traditional junior college power Vincennes tonight at 7 p.m.
Olney Central (109)
Maric 8-8 3-6 19, Dupree 7-11 5-5 19, Booher 5-9 3-5 13, Akers 5-8 2-2 14, Roberts 4-4 2-6 10, Brinkley 3-5 4-6 11, Hacker 2-7 2-3 6, Hall 2-5 0-1 4, McKenty 2-4 1-2 5, Wright 2-4 4-5 8. Totals: 40-65 26-41 109.
New Creations (62)
Annett 18, Bond 17, Desir 11, McLeod 7, Pitchford 7, Dorris 4, Hassan 2, Osman 1. Totals: 67.
|Olney Central 62||47||-||109|
3-point fieldgoals -- OC 3-16 (Akers 2-4, Brinkley 1-2, Hacker 0-3, Hall 0-3, Dupree 0-2, Booher 0-1, McKenty 0-1). Total Rebounds -- OC (Maric 6, Roberts 6, Brinkley 5, Wright 4, Dupree 3, Booher 2, Hacker 2, Hall 2, McKenty 2, Akers 1, Will Kennedy 1). Assists -- OC (Wright 7, Akers 4, Hacker 3, Brinkley 2, McKenty 2, Roberts 2, Dupree 1, Hall 1).