Akal’s Dragons living the dream at 18-2 following blowout of Middlesboro


Jon DIckenson

Harlan senior forward Jaedyn Gist went up for one of his dunks during the Green Dragons’ 100-51 win Friday over visiting Middlesboro. Gist scored 25 points.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

As a player at Cumberland High School in the 1980s, Derrick Akal was a member of some of the most talented and athletic teams in Harlan County history.
Those teams, however, didn’t always capitalize on their ultra-athleticism under the structured system led by legendary coach Ralph Roberts, even though they won big and probably would have made a couple of trips to the Sweet Sixteen if not for Clay County teams that made three appearances in the state finals in that era.
As a coach, Akal has worked toward a lightning-fast pace filled with 3-pointers and attacking the basket. It looks he’s reached that goal this winter with an 18-2 squad that is ranked among the state’s top teams. The Dragons were at their 3-point shooting and dunking best Friday in a 100-51 rout of visiting Middlesboro. The game started as a district battle but quickly turned into an NBA All-Star game that featured the Dragons hitting 22 3-pointers and thrilling the crowd with a variety of slams
“This is the style I’ve always wanted to play,” Akal said. “I always wanted to get the ball up and down the floor, take 3s and attack the rim. We have depth now and can play a fast tempo.”
Senior guard Kaleb McLendon hit seven 3s and finished with 29 points. Senior forward Jaedyn Gist added 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting. Kyler McLendon and Will Austin chipped in with 16 and 12 points, respectively, as the Dragons reached the 100-point mark for the first time after getting to 80 for the eighth time.
Sophomore guard Jerimah Beck led the 4-14 Jackets with 18 points. Junior center Trey King added 11 points.
The Dragons wasted little time setting the tone for the night, hitting 12 of 21 shots in the opening quarter while building a 31-17 lead. Kaleb McLendon and Kyler McLendon each had two of Harlan’s seven treys in the quarter while Gist had five baskets.
Harlan hits its first nine shots in the second quarter and had a 30-point lead midway through the period as Gist reeled off eight straight points on a pair of 3s sandwiched around a score in the paint. The Dragons’ second unit finished the quarter as Harlan built a 62-28 halftime lead.
Kaleb McLendon had three baskets in the third quarter as Harlan hit nine of 15 shots while stretching its lead to 85-42. Austin, Kyler McLendon and Gist had two baskets each.
The Dragons’ reserves played the entire fourth quarter and reached the century mark on five 3s in the first four minutes. Donovan Montanaro and Matthew Pennington each hit one 3 and Dylan Cox added two before Pennington’s second trey made the score 100-44.
Harlan returns to action Monday at home against Pikeville before traveling to Richmond on Thursday for the Kentucky All “A” Classic state tournament.

Harlan guard Kyler McLendon hit four of the Dragons’ 22 3-pointers on Friday in their 100-51 victory over visiting Middlesboro. (Jon Dickenson)