WALTON – He had a lot of success in the All “A” Classic when he was the head coach at Newport Central Catholic, leading NCC to five regional championships.
Now in his second season at Walton-Verona, Grant Brannen is preparing his boys basketball team to tackle the Eighth Region this week. He has already coached the resurgent Bearcats to a much improved season over last year.
The tourney begins for the Bearcats Jan. 13 against 32nd District foe Williamstown. The tourney is at Gallatin County. The semis are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and the final 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17. Walton has three wins against teams in the field but has lost by 14, 72-58, to the preseason favorite, Owen County, who would await in the final.
“The All ‘A’ is a major goal. We have to take it one step at a time,” he said. “Williamstown is sneaky tough. We had trouble with them last year. We have to take it one step at a time. If we can get through to the finals you never know what’s going to happen. Owen has one of the best players in the state.”
The Bearcats, who last won the All “A” regional in 2010, are 9-8 for the season after winning only four games last year. Improvement was expected as the Bearcats brought just about everybody back from last year and they’ve had a year in Brannen’s system.
“The guys have really worked hard this offseason,” Brannen said. “They’ve matured, not only physically but mentally. We’ve gotten stronger in every aspect of the game. The kids are growing and learning how to win.”
The Bearcats played four days in a row in the Lloyd Memorial holiday tournament, going 1-3 including rallying from 11 points down to beat Woodford County. W-V lost by a respectable 14 points to Holmes in the tourney and held the high-powered Bulldogs to 56.
“Our schedule was very tough in December,” Brannen said. “(The Lloyd tourney), we played all regional contenders. It was a growing experience. It was good for us. We saw a lot of different defenses, teams that rely on guards and teams that have a lot of big men.”
The Bearcats have a guard-oriented team led by two seniors in guard Shea Evans and forward Jacob Kirby. Junior Elliott Brook has added a big force as a 6-foot-7 center. Evans is one of the team’s top scorers and has stepped up to run the team at point guard.
“Shea has been special,” Brannen said. “He came into his senior year and become more of a factor. I’ve told him to get to the basket more, shoot more. He’s done that. He’s been so consistent. He’s taken us over the top. We’re taking care of the ball and we’re taking good shots.”
Earlier this season, Evans said he worked hard in the offseason to prepare for his new role as a senior.
“I worked all summer with the team and working out, just doing everything I could to get better,” Evans said. “It means a lot that coach would say something like that about me, and it also means a lot that he would have that confidence in me.”
Walton’s next home game is Jan. 27 against district foe Williamstown.
“If our guards are knocking down shots, we’re a hard team to beat,” Brannen said. “We have to get to the basket and not settle for 15-footers. We have to work and grind it out and we have to be consistent.”
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