The Kentucky Travelers will finally get a home game on the Nike circuit.
In their third season since moving here from Tennessee, the Travelers stay close to home for this weekend's Nike Elite Youth Basketball session at the Kentucky Basketball Academy in Lexington.
This Travelers team — made up primarily of in-state players — looks much different than the previous two.
Those teams were led by stars such as Camron Justice, Beetle Bolden, Justin Johnson and Jackson Davis, and those rosters had plenty of players with previous EYBL experience.
Never miss a local story.
This year's group includes just two returnees from last summer's EYBL squad: Perry Central's Braxton Beverly and Owen County's Carson Williams.
Williams went down with a foot injury early in the first session of EYBL games two weeks ago, and the Travelers limped to an 0-4 start to the season.
Coach Andre Mahorn obviously wasn't pleased with those results, but he says those four games in Virginia will be a valuable learning experience for his young guys.
"EYBL is something that you can't explain," Mahorn said. "You can watch it, but you have to play in it. With nine new guys, it's tough. But I thought we got a lot better each game. Unfortunately, we didn't win, but we were right there."
Mahorn led the last two Travelers' squads to the season-ending Peach Jam tournament, a mild surprise both years.
The teams of unranked Kentuckians defeated and advanced further than many squads that included five-star recruits and future McDonald's All-Americans.
That's the case this year, too, for a team that includes no Top 100 prospects but will be expected to compete against players like UK recruiting targets Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Malik Monk.
"We've always just wanted to outwork people," Mahorn said. "We knew sometimes that we weren't the most talented and we didn't have those stars and those numbers by those kids' names.
"But we believed if we worked harder than everybody, we'd be right there. In our case now, without the experience, you're asking that of guys who have never had to play beyond their limits of comfort. I think it was totally overwhelming at first, but then we took steps to get better."
Beverly is now in his third season with the EYBL club — it's rare for even the most gifted players to play more than two years — after being called up from the program's 16-and-under team while just a freshman in high school.
With Williams out for much of the first session, Beverly was the team's leading scorer and continued his role as floor general at the point guard position.
"Braxton Beverly is definitely the leader of our program," Mahorn said. "He's done a tremendous job. I think the role that he's stepped into now is a role that he didn't have before. And he's carried it.
"He's doing a great job leading, and hopefully everyone else is picking up behind him."
Beverly missed last weekend's practice with an illness, but Mahorn is hoping to have both Beverly and Williams healthy for the games in Lexington.
The coach is also hoping to see more progress from his promising newcomers.
Franklin-Simpson's Tavin Lovan and Newport Central Catholic's Ben Weyer are among the guys that played well in their EYBL debuts in Virginia. Others will have a chance to make an impression on the home-state fans this weekend.
"I think they have a high ceiling," he said. "But they have to understand what it takes to be good on that level."