Banged-up Kentucky Travelers hope to outwork competition at Peach Jam

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 16, 2014 

Knott Central's Camron Justice reached for a loose ball at halfcourt in the second quarter of the Henry Clay vs. Knott Central boy's semifinal basketball game of the Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic High School on Dec. 29, 2012.

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Peach Jam

    Ben Roberts will be tweeting live updates from the Nike Peach Jam. The games get underway at 9 a.m. Thursday, including the Kentucky Travelers' first contest. Stay informed up to the minute by following @NextCats.

The Kentucky Travelers won't be at full strength when they compete for the Peach Jam title starting Thursday in South Carolina.

That's nothing new to this bunch.

The Travelers managed to qualify for Nike's premier basketball championship despite a spring and summer filled with injuries and defections, many of them affecting the squad's highest-rated players.

Owen County standout Carson Williams is the latest Traveler lost to injury. The class of 2016 wing will miss the Peach Jam with a high ankle sprain. Coach Andre Mahorn said that Williams hopes to return for next week's AAU Super Showcase in Louisville, but he won't even be able to make the trip to Peach Jam.

"It's very tough," Mahorn said of the injury-filled summer. "I think it's more frustrating because you know — as a coach — that what we have could be really good if it was all together. But, unfortunately, those things happen.

"We just look at it as someone else will have to step up. And they have."

The Travelers wrapped up four national stops with an 8-8 record against some of the best competition in the country. They did it despite injuries and the defections of Louisville Trinity duo Ray Spalding and Christian Thieneman, who left the Travelers earlier this summer.

Spalding — considered a top-100 recruit in the class of 2015 — has scholarship offers from Louisville and Indiana.

"Any time you lose a talent like Ray, it's always tough," Mahorn said.

But he pointed out that the team is used to playing without Spalding, who was one of the players sidelined with injuries for a good chunk of the Nike season.

Without Williams, the Travelers will send eight players to Peach Jam.

One bit of good news is that Knott Central guard Camron Justice is finally 100 percent healthy after missing time this summer. Justice — a Vanderbilt commitment — is the team's leading scorer and one of the preseason favorites for Mr. Basketball honors.

There have also been some pleasant surprises for the Travelers this summer.

Manual senior Dwayne Sutton ranks 11th on the Nike circuit in rebounding, despite standing just 6-foot-5 in a league that includes the likes of Ivan Rabb, Cheick Diallo, Caleb Swanigan and other much-taller players with five-star rankings.

"I know this kid is the best rebounder in the state," Mahorn said of Sutton. "He does it on both ends. He's exceptional as an offensive rebounder. He's such a hard worker.

"The Ivan Rabbs and Cheick Diallos — those guys are big and athletic. So you have to put a body on them and just go and get it."

Sutton's play has been emblematic of the Travelers' overall concept.

The teams they've played this summer have almost always been comprised of bigger, taller players with lots of stars next to their names on the national recruiting websites.

That won't change this week, when one of their opponents will be the Oakland Soldiers — a perennial AAU powerhouse that now includes Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman, two class of 2015 stars with University of Kentucky scholarship offers.

Mahorn's message all season long won't change either.

"If we play hard, that's all I ask," he said. "We preach that we're going to outwork you. You can be better than me, and I can live with that. They can live with that — somebody being more skilled than them. But that doesn't mean that they have to outwork you.

"And they have bought into that as a unit. They're going to outwork you, and they have fun doing it."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. 
Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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