By Mike Marsee
There’s no way to account for chemistry and culture on a stat sheet, but if there were, the Lincoln County boys would surely rank among the leaders in both areas.
In fact, you’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to outplay the Patriots in either category.
Many Lincoln players start working on building a better basketball team every morning before breakfast in what coach Jeff Jackson says is an extremely close team.
Jackson said the bond his team has is one of its greatest assets as the Patriots try to get in position to challenge for district and regional championships.
“We’ve been lucky, very lucky to have the chance to coach the kids that we have,” Jackson said.
Lincoln was 23-6 in its final regular season games Tuesday at Lexington Catholic and Friday against Casey County and is ranked No. 2 in the 12th region in the KHSAA RPI rankings.
The Patriots went 7-1 against their 45th District opponents and will either be the No. 1 or 2 seed in the 45th District tournament next week in Danville. (Their rankings were not determined until after press time.)
A talented team led entirely by juniors and seniors will look to extend Lincoln’s streak of three consecutive district championships and win the 12th region for the first time since 2019. And their work starts over every school morning.
Jackson said many players meet in the locker room before school starts and go to lunch as a team before going to class.
“We’re talking about a culture of how we want our kids to act on and off the floor, in the classroom, in the locker room,” Jackson said. “There’s a sign on that door that says, ‘We walk up this floor together,’ and they meet here every morning, the older kids who can drive to school and most of the younger kids .
“It’s a good thing. It benefits our program so much because they care enough about all these things.
Lincoln opened the season with nine straight wins and rode a six-game winning streak in Tuesday’s game. The Patriots were 10-1 since a Jan. 14 loss to Boyle County.
Jackson said the Patriots, whose regular playing rotation consists entirely of upperclass men, got “great leadership” from senior Jaxon
Smith and Clayton Davis and juniors Tramane Alcorn, Colton Ralston and Jackson Sims.
“They want to win and they want to win together,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the Patriots’ chemistry has been good since the start of the season, and even before.
“They love each other, hang out and do a lot together,” he said. “They are fun to train. I pick on them sometimes, but they know I love them and I want them to succeed, to succeed and to have the opportunity to be a good team.
He said the chemistry wasn’t upset at all with the addition of two transfers. Evan Smith, who played at Lincoln as a freshman, returned as a fifth-year senior under Senate Bill 128 after three years at Southwestern; and second Will Bishop came from Rockcastle County, although he only played seven games before a season-ending knee injury.
“They welcomed them with open arms,” Jackson said. “Our kids get along great, and it comes down to your leadership from these guys.”
As is so often the case, Lincoln’s calling card is his defense. In games this past weekend, the Patriots ranked fifth in the state in defense with 48.1 points allowed per game.
“We got better defensively and did a better job of rebounding,” Jackson said. “We have to…try to polish some things offensively and we have to keep improving on the defensive end and keep bouncing back.”
Lincoln also benefits from balanced scoring and the ability for any of several players to lead the offense, which averages 61.0 points.
Alcorn led the Patriots in games last weekend with 13.4 points per game, followed by Ralston at 12.6, Jaxon Smith at 11.8 and Evan Smith at 11.4.
Rebounding is equally balanced, led by Alcorn at 4.9 rebounds per game, Jaxon Smith at 4.8, Ralston at 4.2 and Davis at 3.6.
Jackson said he’s happy with how the Patriots have worked as one unit this season.
“They work hard together,” he said. “We go through ups and downs, but you learn from it and you grow.”