NEWTOWN — The Mingo Central Miners did not have a successful season in terms of wins and losses in the first year of the Stan Elkins era as they finished with a 3-20 record and lost out in the first round of the sectional tournament.

They steadily improved over the course of the season however, as they suffered a 81-47 loss to sectional foe Scott in the opening game of the season and then looked much improved by season’s end and only lost by a score of 74-66 to the Skyhawks in the Region IV Section II Tournament, and even led by double digits at one point in the game.

Fast forward to the start of the new season, and with multiple contributors from a year ago returning, coach Elkins said he thinks the Miners will be a much improved ballclub in the 2019-20 campaign based on the effort his kids showed a season ago, despite the lopsided record.

“Depending on how the kids buy in I do expect us to have more success this season,” the second-year coach said. “And I think they have already bought in based on how hard they worked last year. You have a lot of teams that don’t have a very good win-loss record and they kind of just give up and finish out the season. Our kids never gave up and they bought in until the end.

“We knew it was going to be a struggle from the get-go because we didn’t have any experience. However, just the other day I was telling these guys that fundamentals are what’s going to get us over the top. Basically, that’s what we did all last year. Before you can run you have to walk, and we’ll continue to work on those basic fundamentals. In high school basketball, I think if you are a solid fundamental basketball team then you have a good chance to be successful.”

The Miners will have loads of experience coming back this season as they welcome back five of their tops seven players from a season ago, including All-Cardinal Conference nominee in senior Josh Wellman. He averaged just under 10 points per game a season ago and hit a game winning floater against Wayne to secure one of their three wins.

Wellman was the team’s best defender a year ago and he will be relied upon to be a stopper on that side of the ball once again.

Also back are senior twins Nathan and Jacob May after they had solid junior seasons and both averaged right around double-digit points for the Miners and junior guard Colton Blankenship returns as a ball handler.

They will be joined by sophomore wing Jarius Jackson who played a lot of meaningful minutes as a freshman and shot up to 6-foot-4 in the off-season. The MCHS coaching staff is high on Jackson’s abilities and says he will be surprise player in the Cardinal Conference this season.

“When we played Scott at their place to open last season and they beat us by 34 points I thought to myself ‘What have I got myself into?’, it was embarrassing,” coach Elkins said. “But we stayed the course and continued to believe in our self and continued to work hard…. our guys bought in to our philosophy. We’ve got numerous guys back this year that didn’t have any experience this time last year and now they all have that experience. If all the guys show up that we hope to, then we are looking to play at a pace that’s a little up-tempo, put some pressure on guys, and see if we can’t wear some teams down and see if we can get to them in the third or fourth quarter.”

Mingo Central will welcome back the services of Second Team All-State point guard Drew Hatfield, after he played for sectional foe Logan during his junior season. Hatfield enters the season with loads of experience and has scored well over 1,000 points in his varsity career.

He averaged 11.2 points per game in his eighth-grade season at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County, Kentucky, transferred to Mingo Central when his dad, Kevin, was named coach, averaged 14.5 points as a freshman and 13.4 points as a sophomore, and then tossed in 14.5 points, 10.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 steals points per game for Logan this past as he helped lead the Wildcats to a 20-5 record and a regional tourney berth.

Drew’s younger brother, Devin, also returns to the Miners this season after he played some minutes off the bench for Logan as a freshman. Devin is taller than Drew standing around 6-1 and has good ball-handling ability as well as a good jump shot.

He had a slow start to his high school career a season ago as he was nursing a couple of injuries from football season, but eventually cracked the Logan rotation by seasons end and hit a career-high six 3-pointers in an 83-56 win over Scott late in the year.

With the return of the two Hatfield brothers, coupled with what the Miners already had returning, coach Elkins said the Miners will use their athleticism to their advantage.

“I think we have enough offensive threats this year. We always talk about spacing. Because of how small we are, we are pretty much 6-foot across the board other than Jarius, we will have the ability to spread teams out,” Elkins said “With the shooters I think we have they’ll have to come out and guard us and that will open up some driving lanes. If guys help, then we can kick. We are going to try and play fast but still get good quality shots and then put some tight defense on people and hopefully turn them over and create some easy points for ourselves.”

Mingo Central will also welcome back potential post-players Ryan DeBoard, Ethan Evans, Ashton Deskins, and Justin May after they played sparingly a season ago. C.J. Joplin will be back as a senior this year for Mingo Central while Sylas Smith and Joseph Chandler also return as underclassmen.

In his short time on Miner Mountain, coach Elkins has tried to change the culture around the basketball program. It seems he has done that, as they had 27 players come out for the first day of try-outs, not counting any of the potential players from the football team during their run in the Class AA playoffs.

“I think that all these guys know that everybody is going to get a fair shake,” Elkins said. “We have tried to establish a freshman team, we are going to have 10 freshman games this year. Once those games are done some of those guys will be able to move up and play JV. So those guys themselves will get an opportunity themselves to play close to 25-28 games which will make us better for the future.

“We just try to do things the right way. Calvin (Duncan) my assistant does a great job or establishing a rapport with these kids beyond the basketball court with these guys. We try to hep in their lives as well as on the court. They’ll run through a wall for you if they think you care about them.”

The Miners will once again play a challenging Class AA schedule that features another strong slate of Cardinal Conference games, including a home-and-home with two-time defending state champion Chapmanvile. They will also play Logan, Scott, and Wayne two times each as well as single games against Herbert Hoover, Poca, Nitro, Winfield, and Sissonville.

The non-conference schedule includes two games in the annual Hatfield and McCoy Shootout at the Williamson Fieldhouse as well as home-and-homes with Westside, Man, and county rival Tug Valley as well as a road contest at Lincoln County.

“We think we will be able to compete especially at a higher level than we did last year,” Elkins said of his schedule. “I told the team last year that some of those games that we lost early in the season on the road, later on those same teams I think that we can beat. Now we’ll have some of those teams at home this year. So I definitely think that we will be competitive and maybe even sneak up on some teams early on.”

Coach Elkins and Duncan will be joined on the bench this season by assistant coach Matt Hatfield who comes over after helping at Williamson PK8 a season ago. Junior Michael Runyon is back as team manager for the Miners.

Mingo Central will begin the second year of the Stan Elkins era at home on Dec. 13 in a tilt against the Scott Skyhawks. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Miner Mountain.

2019-20 Mingo Central Basketball Schedule

12/13 7:30Pm H — Scott

12/17 7:30Pm H — Winfield

12/20 7:30Pm A — Wayne

12/27 7:30Pm H — Poca

01/03 7:30Pm H — Logan

01/07 7:30Pm A — Chapmanville Regional High School

01/10 Tba A — Hatfield Mccoy Shootout (Williamson)

01/11 Tba A — Hatfield Mccoy Shootout (Williamson)

01/14 7:30Pm H — Sissonville

01/17 7:00Pm A — Herbert Hoover

01/21 7:30Pm A — Tug Valley

01/23 7:30Pm H — Man High School

01/25 7:30Pm A — Westside

01/28 7:30Pm A — Logan

01/31 7:30Pm A — Nitro

Feb. 04 7:30Pm H — Tug Valley

Feb. 07 7:00Pm H — Wayne

Feb. 08 7:30Pm A — Man High School —

Feb. 11 7:30Pm H Chapmanville Regional High School

Feb. 14 7:30Pm A — Scott

Feb. 18 7:30Pm H — Westside

Feb. 21 7:30Pm A — Lincoln County High School

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.