First-year head coach hopes to pull from experience under Rick Pitino

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By John Shindlebower

Basketball fans over a certain age remember a brash young coach coming to Kentucky with an undersized, inexperienced team. The coach instilled an up-tempo game, a lot of pressing defense and utilized the three-point shot. The Wildcats surprised fans and opponents alike.
There’s no promise that the 2013-14 Spencer County Bears will duplicate the success of the first Rick Pitino-led team at the University of Kentucky, but new Bears’ Head Coach Jason Burns is going to utilize much of the same recipe and hope for positive results.
Burns, 28, is in his first head coaching position, but he spent some time as a graduate assistant under Pitino at the University of Louisville, so he’s familiar with the formula.
“Working for Coach Pitino has prepared me for a lot. I learned a ton by watching film of every team we played against, the importance of developing players, how to be prepared and just knowing what it takes to be successful.”
In addition, Burns credits Steve Simpson, the head coach at South Oldham where Burns served as an assistant for the last few years, with furthering his basketball education.
Burns inherits a team that lost seven seniors from last year’s squad and has been picked near the last of the 17-team 8th Region.
“We are definitely rebuilding,” he said. “But we’ve been working really hard and I think we are going to surprise some people. We are playing a much tougher schedule and played a brutal schedule over the summer, which will really help us over the long haul. By the end of the year, we will be a lot better and we want to be able to compete in the district.”
The Bears return two part-time starters from last season’s team, Cameron Fitts and Estevan Cordoba, both of whom just joined the Bears last year. The only other returning player who has seen much varsity action is Justin Miller, a junior point guard. They do have some good athletes on the bench and Burns plans to use them to the fullest.
“We are going to play an up-tempo style. We are going to press and try to speed the game up. Offensively, we are always looking to push the ball and will probably take a few more threes than teams in the past,” he said.
However, he said the key to his team will be defense. “We will win on the defensive end. We want to dictate what our opponents do on offense, not the other way around.”
Burns understands that from a talent standpoint, his Bears may be mismatched at times this season, but said this is a perfect opportunity to set the tone for the program by emphasizing hard work.
“The biggest area we want to see improvement is in our effort and toughness. We are not going to be as talented as a lot of teams we play and the only way to beat those teams is to out-work them, out-hustle them and out-prepare them.”
Off the court, Burns is excited about the excitement he sees in the community for the basketball program.
“I’ve been surprised with the turnout of various basketball activities. We had a really good turnout for basketball camp over the summer and had a good crowd at the blue/white scrimmage. Our team gets such a great vibe from our fans and community and the support that our program has gotten so far.”
While Burns is aware of the challenges he faces this season, he also said it’s reasonable to expect Spencer County to be competitive in the tough 8th Region on a regular basis.
“I think we can get to that point,” he said, noting that while at South Oldham, he was able to see some talented players come through the Spencer County program.
Getting players involved early is vital however, and Burns wants to be hands-on in helping develop the various youth programs and players.
“Our middle school and youth programs mean everything to the development of our success. Our staff has already gotten involved with developing the youth programs. We had a good camp over the summer and we were able to conduct practices with our middle school over the summer. We have even had the opportunity to help with some elementary-aged teams as well. That is our future.”
The Spencer County Bears will tip off their season at home on Dec. 2 when they welcome Waggener at 7:30.