UHA’s Preston Thomas drives around a screen during the 2021 Summer Shootout at the Sportsplex.

Replacing two-time Kentucky New Era Athlete of the Year KJ Crump isn’t an easy task.

Having to replace him and six other seniors, as well as your coach, makes things even more difficult if your University Heights Academy.

With a lot of turnover in the Blazer program, including the departure of head coach Grant Shouse, new head coach Melvin Brown spent the summer program with a very young group, trying to begin building an identity ahead of the 2021-22 season.

But even with his young team, the new coach is just happy to have a summer to build with and get them adjusted to his style.

“With COVID going on and everything, we’re just glad to be on the court,” Brown said at Summer Shootout last month. “We’re just trying to come together as a team. Building that camaraderie and that chemistry after losing our coach and that type of thing. It’s all about coming together.”

On last year’s team, any of the four guards in Crump, Amani McGee, DJ Quarles and Will Bryan could step up and stand out on any given night.

Brown is looking to find that guy with his young returning core from last season, most of which played minimal minutes on the defending Second Region champions.

“We’re still looking for our identity,” Brown said. “We haven’t had that guy step up just yet. But we’re all sticking together and we’re all battling every day and before the summer is out, we’ll have that leadership.”

The first step for Brown is getting his guys adjusted to the varsity life this summer as the speed of the game definitely takes a step up from JV.

“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “They’re going to have to get used to the physicality and the fast pace of the game and that sort. Coming in and filling a role when you’ve got those top seniors is easy, but when you’re the top dog, it’s a little bit different. They’re learning every day and they’re taking on the challenge.”

Not much will have changed for the Blazers from a personnel standpoint.

Still undersized, Brown will have to get his team to continue to fight down low and win battles against much larger opponents.

But despite that, he is feeling good heading into the second half of the offseason.

“Buying into the concept of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re undersized still. Being that we are, we’ve got to keep playing like dogs. If we all come together as one and do what we can do, we’re going to be alright.”

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