Nov. 29—Jason Mays always has a unique outlook on the game and his team.
Part philosopher and part motivator, the fourth-year Ashland coach begins a new season with a different perspective.
Mays believes this year's Tomcats will be difficult to coach, though not from a character or talent standpoint. The bar Ashland has set continues to get higher and maintaining its level of play creates a challenge, he said.
"They are brothers, and they love each other," Mays said. "This will be the hardest team to coach since I've been here because you're always finding ways to push buttons to make them exceptional. They have already done great things.
"It's easy to coach a bunch of average guys to be good," he continued. "It's hard to coach a bunch of talented players that have been together for so long to excel every single day. It takes a lot of energy. I'm in bed by 9:30 every night. I am worn out after practice."
The Tomcats have won three consecutive 16th Region Tournament titles and reached the state semifinals last year before falling to eventual state champion Highlands.
Mays wants to play at an even quicker pace than the team did last year. Ashland has already shown the capacity for swift buckets. The Tomcats posted 99 points in a preseason scrimmage against Huntington Prep.
Ashland has the offensive firepower to achieve that goal. Cole Villers (22 points a game), Colin Porter (17 ppg) and Ethan Sellars (13 ppg) each averaged double figures last year. The Tomcats have others to incorporate into the lineup that can put points on the board.
Mays wants the offensive production to start at the other end of the floor.
"To be a good offensive team, we understand and have the maturity to realize that their defense is their best offense," Mays said. "I haven't had to teach a lot of halfcourt man-to-man defense. They play in the passing lanes and take some risks. We want (opponents) to react to our actions when we are on defense."
Ashland will need the all the defensive moxie it can muster against an extremely difficult schedule. The Tomcats face strong competition from out of state, compete in several early-season events and mixed in rivalry matchups with Saturday showcase games in January.
"When we go to the region tournament, we want to go in knowing that we have played as talented a team as we will see in the region tournament," Mays said. "If we go to the state tournament, we will have the same mentality. Regardless of who we draw in the state tournament, we have played a team that is as good as you or better.
"We will lose games, maybe some in a row, which we haven't done in a while," he added. "I feel this team will be poised to win a state championship in March. We don't talk about that. We talk about having good reps in practice and the other things will take care of itself."
Villers, Porter, Sellars and Zander Carter are returning starters. Mays said the fifth spot is still up for grabs and could be filled by several suitors, with the increased depth the Tomcats have this year.
"Colin is the guy that sets the tone with his energy level," Mays said. "He is trying to outwork Cole. Cole is trying to outwork him. Ethan and Zander are part of the mix. The role players have seen that and they're like, if I don't work at this level, I am getting left behind. Colin is on top of that. It helps that he has the ball most of the time. He is really fast, so he sets tempo."
Mays calls Sellars "a shot-maker, not just a scorer." The senior has made a concerted effort to get to the rim, which gives him more open looks around the perimeter.
"Selly is the best rim-attacker we have on our team," Mays said. "We have some isolation plays for him to take advantage of that. He is so strong and so explosive. He does things you can't coach. He has a knack for scoring around the rim. He has got to get to the free throw line more."
Ryan Atkins should see an increased role. Mays admires his toughness and his desire to do whatever is necessary to help the team win. He will be joined on the front line by Nate Freize and Bath County transfer and 6-foot-10 forward James Mayor.
Asher Adkins, Tucker Conway, Tate Ashby and Tristin Davis all have a special set of skills that will enhance the lineup when they enter the game.
Carter, Freize and Adkins all took advantage of Kentucky Senate Bill 128 and gained another year of eligibility.