This season has been one of firsts for the boys’ basketball program at tiny Cordia High School, nestled between two Appalachian hills on the Knott County side of Lotts Creek, just a mile from the Perry County line.
For one, coaches from Division I basketball programs, including Kentucky, have visited Lotts Creek to evaluate senior point guard Emmanuel Owootoah, who in just the past few weeks has received interest from a number of colleges. For another, Friday will mark the first time the Lions will have an opportunity to play for a 53rd District championship since 2008.
Coincidentally, 2008 was the last year the Lions handed a loss to cross county rival Knott Central. Since that game five years ago, however, the Patriots have owned the Lions on the basketball court, including three games already this season.
Now in his second season as Cordia’s coach, Rodrick Rhodes has lost to Knott Central five times himself. He’ll be looking to prevent a sixth loss this week in the district title game, but says his team must be mentally prepared before that can happen.
“We’ve got to come out with the right mindset,” Rhodes said. “Hopefully, if we come out with the right mindset and we match their intensity, we should be able to play with them and compete with them.”
Though Cordia hasn’t been able to get over the Knott Central hump in the past five seasons, the teams’ most recent match-up during the semifinals of the All “A” tournament in January went down to the wire before the Patriots pulled off a four-point victory. And the Lions, despite a 16-point shellacking at Perry Central on Feb. 16, are playing their best basketball this season. With the addition of Canadian transfers Owootoah and Marlon King in January, Cordia has won 10 of their last 12 games.
Even still, Rhodes knows defeating Knott Central will be a tall mountain to climb. The Patriots, sitting at 25-5 after an easy win over Jenkins on Wednesday, are a young squad led by sophomore Camron Justice, one of the region’s top players and one of the state’s top scorers. But by no means are the Patriots a one-man band, and in each of the previous three match-ups with Cordia someone other than Justice led Knott Central in scoring.
“They’re so well coached, and they don’t do anything they’re not supposed to do,” Rhodes said.
In his third season coaching at Knott Central, B.B. King has won two straight 53rd District championships, and is looking to make it three on Friday before making a run at a second 14th Region title next week. For his team to win against Cordia for a fourth time this season, he said, they will not only need to run the court well but also prepare to play a physical game while keeping their emotions in check.
“They’re a good ball club,” King said of Cordia. “They like to get up and down the floor, too. I think the key to that is that we’ve got to be physical with them. I’m sure they’re going to be physical with us. We’ve got to keep our emotions down and all that, and just come to play.”
Cordia has won only one district title in its history, and that came 20 years ago in 1993 when coach Dook Combs and a senior-laden team downed Knott Central before bowing out in the 14th Region tournament to the M.C. Napier Navajos. And after two decades of some definite ups and downs, folks at Cordia are excited about their team’s potential in a 14th Region with several very talented teams remaining in the mix. But for now, with a big date with Knott Central waiting in the wings, Coach Rhodes isn’t looking too far ahead.
“We’ve got to try to figure out how to beat this team,” he said of Knott Central. “We’ve got to get over the hump.”