STAR PLAYER

Jackson County's Kalib Clinton returns for his junior year after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game last season. 

New Jackson County boys’ basketball coach Ty Baumgardner brought with him a résumé that consisted of 363 wins and a state title.

He also brought along a demanding off-season and preseason regimen.

“They’ve had to work harder than they’ve ever had to work here in the preseason, both in the weight room and conditioning and our individual four-on-one stuff in the mornings and the afternoons,” said Baumgardner, who won a state title in 2013 while coaching in North Carolina. “So, it’s an adjustment. Obviously, a new coach, a new philosophy, a new style.”

Kalib Clinton, the Panthers’ star junior, didn’t downplay the assessment of his coach.

“It was very hard,” Clinton said. “We did a lot during the offseason and stuff — four-on-ones like coach said. “And it’s just getting us better as a group and a team.”

Baumgardner was hired after the resignation of Chuck Butler, who spent six seasons on the job. Butler led the Panthers to a 12-15 mark a year ago.

Baumgardner joined the team in June after a one-year stint at Westwood (S.C.) High School. He enjoyed largely successful tenures at both Olympic (N.C.) High School and Collins Hill High School.

Like Clinton, junior sharp-shooting guard Kedric Zimmer pointed to the workload under the new coach, which included early morning workouts and afternoon conditioning sessions. But Zimmer considered it time well-spent.

“It was different to begin with,” Zimmer said. “But we fell in love with him really fast when he started implementing what he believes in and our work ethic and discipline is definitely improving.”

Clinton called the process of getting to know Baumgardner “fun.”

“We like the way he does things, and we think it’s going to get us better,” he said.

CLINTON LEADS PANTHERS

Baumgardner will inherit one of the best players in the region with Clinton, who could leave Jackson County as one of its highest-regarded players ever.

The 6-4 junior played wing last year, but saw time at all five positions en route to putting up monster numbers. He averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a steal and a block per game. He’s already nearing 1,000 career points.

Baumgardner also has a sniper on the outside with Zimmer, who set the school record for 3-pointers in a season (82) and game (nine) last year. Zimmer averaged 10 points per contest in 2018-19, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

The two junior standouts give the Panthers a dangerous inside-outside attack, but Baumgardner is hesitant to put labels on those players.

“We’re really working on improving Kalib’s perimeter game, so he can be an inside and outside threat,” Baumgardner said.

Of Zimmer, the coach said, “Obviously Kedric can shoot the piss out of it. But he’s got to improve his game, too. We’re working at being able to create off the dribble and stuff and so. So, yeah, it’s a nice little inside and outside combination there, but I don’t like restricting guys … I think the more versatile guys can be, the better.”

SIZING UP THE ROSTER

Baumgardner said he’ll have a young group this year, and outside of Clinton and Zimmer, not a wealth of experience. He also won’t have much size, “which that’s never really bothered me.”

“But we’ve got good leadership so far that I’ve seen and, again, it’s going to be how quickly they can adjust to me and what I’m trying to instill on stuff,” he said. “It will take a little time, but I like the way things are going.”

While he said it’s a coaching cliché, Baumgardner simply wants to see daily improvement from his first team at Jackson County. That progression will ultimately determine the squad’s success.

“When you look at the history of Jackson County basketball, it’s not the best,” he said. “So, we’ve got nowhere to go but up. So, we just need to keep trying to improve every day. If we do that, wins will come, but right now, we’ve got to improve individually and as a team collectively. We’ll see what happens.”

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