Colonels excited to be headed to Corbin Arena
By T. Wampler / JPI Sports
The Caverna Colonels boys’ basketball team and Coach Steve Barker are headed to the All-A State finals for the first time in the school’s history after knocking off Green County 59–55 in the 5th Region All-A finals. The coach and his players are excited to be making the trip to ‘The Corbin Arena,” a venue that Barker describes as a “big time facility, a great place for these kids to play basketball in front of a big crowd.”
Organizers of the Kentucky All “A” Classic announced that the tournament will be held at “The Corbin Arena” for the first time this season. The Harlem Globetrotter World Tour 2024 played at the arena prior to the All-A Classic Tournament.
The tournament dates are Jan. 24 through Jan. 28. The statewide tournament consists of 32 schools from across the commonwealth — 16 boys’ teams and 16 girls’ teams. Caverna will next play (Pikeville or Martin County) in the All-A Classic on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. EST at “The Corbin Arena.”
“It is just an exciting time to have these kids that are so young to be able to experience this,” Barker said. “The whole town is excited that we get to go. Everyone is proud of what this team has accomplished and are anxious for the next step. The community has really gotten behind this team.”
The Colonels are also excited to have reached the state tournament finals for the first time in the school’s history in the All-A Classic. “Those guys starting the All-A twenty-some odd years ago was a great thing. It gives the little guys a chance to play at a high level,” Barker said. “And these kids going to represent Caverna for the first time in the All-A State is great for the school and the community. The competition is going to be really good.”
Coach Barker talked about the tough schedule he played so far including the tournaments the Colonels participated in over the winter break. “I have always believed in playing the best teams I can during my coaching career,” he said. “I don’t think you can get better playing teams you know you can beat. I have never shied away from good competition.”
Barker believes those games over winter break, and all the tough competition they faced on their schedule in 2023-24, helped prepare them for what awaits them in Corbin, Kentucky in the All-A State Tournament.
Barker said he has helped his players understand that every team has a few good players. The coach said the best teams are going to have more than one or two good players. He said they may even have several “great players.”
“That’s what we want to face if we are going to become the best team we can be,” he added.
“We played some really good teams from both Tennessee and Alabama,” Barker continued. “I think good competition has prepared us for whoever we play next in the All-A (at the time of this interview, due to the recent bad weather, their next opponent had yet to be determined: Pikeville or Martin County).
Barker said Pikeville has a very good 6’9” player. He was able to watch Pikeville in the semifinals but, Barker said, “whichever team wins, they earned the right to reach the All-A State Tournament.”
Barker said he has been going “eight deep” in his game rotation and that this has been a good formula for success this year and during his career. Barker said you need “good back-ups” at point guard, shooting guard, and post. The coach thinks this year’s team has developed players to fill those roles.
“We’ve got that (solid back-ups) and we’ve been able to play all of them some good quality minutes,” Barker said. “In the All-A final against Green County, we got to play all eight. I think that has prepared us for All-A State, district, and hopefully, the regionals.”
Barker was also pleased with their 2-point win over LaRue in district action. “LaRue had won 50-something odd district games in a row over the last several years,” Barker continued. “Having a Region 3 background, I was unaware of how dominant they had been in District 18. For us to get that win at home, that was special for our team.”
Barker said his kids are young, but they understood the ramifications from that victory. “Playing against better competition has kept us playing at a high level and as a coach, that’s what you want,” he said. “I heard someone say that pairings (#1, #2, #3, and #4 seeding) in the District 18 Tournament doesn’t matter. And they are right, because anybody can beat anybody.”
Barker said that he has really been pleased with their rebounding. “The Martin twins (Tyson and Kenyon) have just been a force underneath on both ends of the court,” he said. “Tyson has had games with 22 points and 15 rebounds, or 20 points and 16 rebounds, and most of them are offensive rebounds. Him and his brother both are real special athletes with their ability to go to the glass.”
“They (Tyson and Kenyon Martin) are just wired that way. They play hard and don’t ever say a word,” Barker said. “To be sophomores and to be so dominant on the glass has really helped us this year. We are probably one of the top teams in rebounding in the state because of those two kids.”
Barker is pleased with the play of his primary ball handler and point guard, Jaylin Craine.
“Jaylin handles the ball 95% of the time,” he said. “We are very difficult to press because of his ability to split traps, break a press, and his quickness to the basket. When teams press and trap, it does not bother us.”
Barker said he wants to “play up tempo basketball” and Craine’s abilities to handle the ball under pressure gives his teammates confidence to trust him to push the basketball. “Jaylin has cut back on his turnovers and that is a sign of maturity,” he said. “He has gotten bigger and stronger. I can’t ask him to do anymore than he has as a point guard because he’s gotten to be a really nice player.”
Barker says the Colonels are doing a great job playing together as a team and are just relentless on the glass. “If you miss a shot against Caverna, you are going to have a difficult time getting an offensive rebound,” he said. “And we are getting a lot of second chances on offense because of that same determination.”
Coach Barker is very appreciative of the support the Colonels get at home or on the road. He has received compliments from the Green County Athletic Director and others on the crowds Caverna brings to their games.
“We had our band there, all our cheerleaders, and we had a great crowd,” he said of the All-A championship game at Green County. “Everyone drove the 45 minutes over to the game and it was really special for our kids to have that kind of support.”