Sophomore Mason Rusch doesn’t play for a big-name high school, but his head coach doesn’t think that matters.
Rusch plays for Calvary Christian, a K-12 school in the 10th Region that has a total enrollment of 129 high school students (75 boys), making it the 31st-smallest school in the state. Its schedule mostly consists of other tiny schools without a history of on-court prowess, and the Cougars have never won a region tournament.
What they do have is a coach with some clout: Dale Brown, the former University of Kentucky star who went on to coach in the college ranks before returning to the Bluegrass state in 2016 to coach at Eminence High School.
Brown left Eminence after one season for Calvary Christian — he called the latter a better fit — and inherited a roster losing its two top scorers. But in Rusch, who averaged 13.9 points as a freshman, he knew he had someone around which to build an offense; Rusch has doubled his scoring output from a season ago and is seventh in the state at 26.9 points per game.
“This kid is a sophomore and his IQ is off the charts,” Brown said. “We give him the green light to just do his thing.”
Brown said Rusch has a Travis Ford-like build. The 5-foot-9 sophomore isn’t as dangerous a three-point shooter as his former UK teammate, but Brown said he’s a “fairly good shooter.” Rusch has taken the most shots on the team — he’s connected on almost half of them (48.2 percent) — but is averaging seven assists a night; fellow sophomores Josh Moran (13.1 ppg) and Cross Dugan (10.3) are the primary beneficiaries.
As far as Brown is concerned, Rusch has a Division I future.
“I told him that I’ll get him a D-1 scholarship,” Brown said. “His size is kind of suspect but, man, he’s got the heart of a lion and he fights and fights,” Brown said. “ … He’s a quarterback on the floor and an extension of me on the court. Some of the things he does freak me out.”
Rusch is as humble as they come, Brown said — something he would not have said about himself as a high school star in Mississippi.
“I told him, ‘Mason, man, when I played ball I used to talk so much noise once I realized I was a good player.’ I used to talk and talk,” Brown said. “He just laughs at me. He just goes about his business and doesn’t brag.”
Brown plans to beef up Calvary Christian’s schedule over the next couple seasons to get his team more exposure across the state and to give it more experience against stronger competition to better prepare it for the postseason. He looks forward to using the connections he made playing and coaching in college to give Rusch and other players who come through the program an opportunity to be seen in spite of where they happen to play high school ball.
“These coaches know that Coach Brown ain’t feeding ’em no crap when he calls and says somebody can play,” Brown said.