Coach Renner of Ballard High School has overcome a lot in 19 years as head basketball coach of arguably the most respected and successful boys’ basketball program in the state of Kentucky. But he has faced a somewhat unfamiliar task this year: dealing with injuries of his senior star players and coaching a team whose expectation is to get to the state tournament.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. Our two best players, Vonnie Patterson and Jamil Wilson, have both had injuries and both have been out for extended periods of time,” he says. “So we’ve had to deal with the changes in lineups and not as many intense practices due to injuries. This is the first year that it has hit my best players like that. On the flip side, that’s tough for kids. It’s tough for them to mentally transition. Vonnie and Jamil were playing at an extremely high level, and when you’re playing at a certain level then go three weeks without playing and not practicing and then you come back, that’s a tough adjustment.”
Senior guard Jamil Wilson and senior forward Clivonte Patterson have missed a few games due to injury, but Ballard hasn’t missed a beat. They’re 20-5 on the season and still in position to make a strong push come playoff time, now with their big guns back in the lineup and reloading.
It says a lot about a team and a program that even without their best players, they are still a force to be reckoned with.
“The winning tradition here at Ballard was happening way before I got here,” Renner adds. “That helps us during stretches when we are missing guys because our guys believe they can win and they can compete with anybody.”
Ballard got their 20th win of the season against Central, making it 19 straight seasons they’ve had 20-plus wins. Renner affirms, “No other school in the state of Kentucky can say that. What contributes to that, obviously, is having talented players, [but] also mentally tough players. Players who are capable of stepping in for someone else – not only physically, but also mentally, can handle the challenge.”
At times throughout the season, it’s been an emotional roller coaster for Patterson and Wilson, who both carry much of the offensive production. Patterson, who’s averaged nearly a double-double with 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds, and Wilson, who’s averaged 14.1 points and 2.6 rebounds, have encouraged each other throughout the season when they’ve had to sit on the bench, anxiously awaiting to get back into action.
“[Jamil] got hurt first and I was just telling him I was going to step up for him,” says Patterson. “I told him not to rush coming back because we need him at the end of the season. So I told him not to rush it and keep doing what he needs to do. Then I got hurt and he told me the same thing. So he stepped up a lot too.”
It says a lot for a duo, who Patterson compares to the likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. Wilson uses his speed well and can dribble and shoot, which goes along with Patterson’s scoring abilities and stinginess on the glass.
“I’d say Vonnie is like a DeRozan,” says Wilson with a smile. “He’s a slasher and is able to get to the basket. He crashes the boards like crazy. That’s the good thing.”
Throughout the season, Coach Renner has remained optimistic with his star guys, understanding it’s a process, and when guys return, it takes time getting them back in full swing.
“The tough part is when they try to come back and they’re not 100 percent,” explains Renner. “Quentin Snider is seeing some of this at Louisville. Q has been out and he’s trying to get to 100 percent, and they need him to play. So you just try to check on the guys and ask them how they are doing and how they are feeling and what percent they are right now.”
But Patterson and Wilson are poised and look forward to the postseason, knowing much is riding on their shoulders as they look to make a run in the playoffs.
“We’re going to play hard. The whole game, we’re going to come at you. Trap, press and run. That’s our game, and we are starting to communicate better on defense. Everyone is starting to gel and really get in their spot. That is real good for us,” Wilson adds. “I have a lot of experience being here as many years as I have been here. I feel it’s my part to lead the team. Vonnie and I have to be the leaders of the team – verbally and with everything we do.” VT