NICHOLASVILLE — East Jessamine's boys' basketball players ought to have "TEAMWORK" stitched on the backs of their jerseys because there may not be a more cohesive, more unselfish group in the state.
"Great teams accomplish great things when they play as one," Coach Chris O'Bryan said. "For the most part, these guys have done that."
East Jessamine (25-4) has won its last 14 games and has broken the school record for victories in a season set by the 2002 Jaguars who were 11th Region runners-up to eventual state champion Lexington Catholic.
There are no stars, statistically speaking, for East Jessamine. Five players average in double figures, and a sixth is close to doing it.
The Jaguars' top priority is sharing the ball.
"We can pass, we can drive and we can shoot," senior guard Cody Collins said. "That's why it's so hard for other teams to pick out which one of us to guard."
Collins is the leading scorer with a 13-point average. Seniors C.J. Boyd and Tashan Hairston, and junior Timmy Bradshaw average about 11 points apiece. Freshman Ronnie Carson checks in with a 10-point average.
Senior Michael Rexroat is averaging nine points, and senior Cameron Thomas, who missed the first month of the season recovering from a football knee injury, is rounding into form and is a dozen points waiting to happen on any given night.
"It's chemistry," Collins said. "Most of us have been together since the sixth grade, so we know each other's strengths and weaknesses."
One team weakness could be rebounding because Bradshaw, primarily a shooter, is the tallest Jaguar at 6-foot-2.
That's why East Jessamine plays at only two speeds — fast and faster.
"We have so many guards, we like to think we have a little bit of quickness," O'Bryan said. "We struggle in the half-court set because we're so small, so we try to get people going up-tempo as much as possible."
That's also why the Jaguars are the second-leading scoring team in the state with a 78-point average.
"We try to outrun teams the whole game and wear 'em down by the end," Boyd said.
O'Bryan said it's a matter of survival: "We don't have size, but we make up for that with a lot of heart."
East Jessamine's hustling style and competitive spirit was on full display at Paul Laurence Dunbar two weeks ago. The Jaguars trailed by 18 points at halftime, and by 11 with 90 seconds left, but rallied to win 96-91 in overtime.
"By far the greatest game we played this season," Boyd said. "It was just crazy. Coach kept telling us not to give up, so we kept fighting."
O'Bryan, in his 12th season as Jaguars coach, has seen these seniors improve dramatically since they were freshmen.
"Their progression has just been amazing," he said. "They've learned to compete, they've played unselfish basketball, they've been dedicated to working hard, and they genuinely like each other.
"They haven't accomplished everything they want yet, but they're still working toward that."
That would be the 12th Region title and the school's first trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
If the Jaguars do it, teamwork will get them there.
"There's not any one person here that stands out," O'Bryan said, "but they all stand together. That's what makes them special."
East Jessamine opens district tournament play against host Mercer County on Tuesday night.