Last season, Rylee Samons was playing like the best player in the 15th Region and then he injured his knee late in the season.
Samons went to work in the offseason.
He rehabbed the ACL injury and made it back for the start of the season.
He’s getting stronger and more confident and getting better each and every game.
“Each game, my knee gets stronger,” Samons said. “Just talking about the injury, I’ve worked and worked and worked all summer and offseason just to get back. We’ve said all season, just take it one game at a time and we want to make a statement.”
“He’s getting better and better,” Justice said. “We knew it’d be a process with him getting back. When you’re out so long, it takes a toll on you. But he’s just getting better every game and you can tell he’s starting to feel better and move better and the game’s starting to slow down for him again. That’s what we want. We even talked about it as a group of not wanting to be just be content with where we’re at, but let’s try to find something every game that we can get better at. These guys seem hungry and so, we’re just going to try to keep working and get better every day.”
Samons has played in all 13 games this season and is averaging 14.0 points per game. He’s shooting 49.2 percent from three-point range (30 for 61). He’s shooting 55.3 percent from the field (68 for 123).
He was averaging 21.8 points per game last season before going down with the injury after just 13 games.
The road back has been tough for Samons.
“It was a rough journey,” Samons said. “It’s probably the worst thing that I’ve been through injury wise, but I prayed every night and God answered my prayers by allowing me to come back healthy and comeback strong.”
Samons had some extra motivation and support from teammate Laithan Hall who had battled back from the same kind of injury a couple seasons ago. That bond and encouragement meant a lot to Samons getting back in time to play the whole season this year.
“He (Laithan Hall) motivated me every day to get better and keep working,” Samons said. “Even when I first got released and was allowed to do laterals and stuff, he was pushing me and just there watching me and supporting me. He kept telling me that it’s not impossible and to just keep working.”
Pikeville was one of the top teams in the region last season, but injuries plagued the team last year.
This year, the Panthers returned everybody and they are all healthy.
Plus Pikeville added Keian Worrix from Shelby Valley to the roster and everything is clicking for the Panthers right now.
“It’s fun because nobody is jealous of anybody else,” Samons said. “Keian (Worrix) is a past first player. He can score and he get shots for anybody. Laithan (Hall) is hitting shots from everywhere and he can drive it and create shots for others. We all really create shots for each other and we really play well together.”
Samons attributes a lot of the Panthers success this season to the defensive play of the team.
“Coach (Elisha Justice) said you can’t always control shots going in,” Samons said. “You can always get up extra shots, but somedays you’re going to have bad games. So that’s why we focus so much on defense and getting stops. We want key stops and we want to get out on the break and get easy shots to get going. That’s one thing we can control — the way we play defense.”
Pikeville is 12-1 on the season and the Panthers’ only loss came against one of the top teams in the state against Bowling Green. Bowling Green beat Pikeville with a buzzer-beating three in the Ashland Invitational Tournament.
“We have a lot of potential, but like coach says, we always have a lot of stuff to work on to get where we want to be,” Samons said. “Laithan (Hall), Keian (Worrix), Heath (Jarrell) all create shots for each other and we can all shoot the ball pretty decent. It’s just fun. We have Nick (Robinson) on the baseline and whoever comes in just does the same. It’s just so much fun playing with this group of guys.”
Pikeville (12-1) is scheduled to take on Martin County at 8:00 Friday night in the 15th Region All “A” Classic semifinals.