Ray Valentine was aware of the expectations surrounding the Berea Community basketball team when he took over the program a few months ago.

He wasn't intimidated.

Not one bit.

He whole-heartedly embraced those rather lofty goals.

"I tell people all the time, 'If you don't think bigger than you are, how do you expect to get big?' You never will. You will stay mediocre or average because that's where you are comfortable," Valentine said. "Let's break out of our comfort zone. Let's try to do something no one has ever done before."

The Pirates (22-10) could be posed to do something special.

Berea won 22 games last season and advanced to the 11th Region Tournament for the first time since 2006.

With two of the top players in the area back -- seniors Jayden Smith and Jaylen Dorsey -- and a roster full of experience and talent, the Pirates have their sights set on reaching even greater heights this season.

"Lets see what you can do," Valentine said. "Let's see what kind of legacy we can leave."

Valentine takes over for Eric Swords, who had a 66-53 record in four seasons at Berea.

In August, he was named the new head coach at his alma mater -- Williamsburg.

The Pirates had a combined record of 40-22 in the past two seasons under Swords.

Valentine has spent most of the past 20 years as an assistant coach at both the high school and college levels, including at Georgetown College and Kentucky State. This is his first head coaching position.

He wasn't hired until October and with the restrictions brought on by COVID-19, Valentine admits he is still just getting to know his team as the start of the season approaches.

"There's going to be a learning curve," Valentine said. "We have to use our games as scrimmages because we can't just go play somebody and go watch the film. The first game is going to be our first scrimmage. We are all learning together."

Because of those unique circumstances, Valentine knows the Pirates might struggle a bit at the start of the season.

And that's fine.

He just wants to see steady progress.

"By the time we get to February and March, we should be ready to play anybody," Valentine said.

The first-year head coach will look to a pair of standout seniors to lead the Pirates.

Dorsey had a breakout season as a junior. The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged a team-best 17.3 points and 6.5 rebounds a game (second-best on the team).

He shot 57 percent from the field and got to the free throw line 213 times (155 makes).

"He could be the best player in the entire 11th Region," Valentine said of Dorsey.

Valentine, though, has even bigger expectations for the talented senior.

"He has a great work ethic. He has some high aspirations," Valentine said. "I told him that there is a lot on his shoulders. He has to understand that it's his team and he has to come in every day and motivate his teammates."

Smith averaged 12.7 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds a game last season. The 6-foot-5 senior forward also hit 31 three-pointers.

"He scraps to show that he does belong," Valentine said. "That chip on your shoulder can take you a long way. He works hard. He has great confidence."

Berea graduated six seniors from last season. That group combined to average more than 24 points a game.

The Pirates, however, bring back plenty of players who got lots of playing time -- in addition to Dorsey and Smith.

Trenton Wilson hit 38 three-pointers and averaged 6.6 points a game as a freshman.

"He can shoot the ball extremely well," Valentine said of Wilson. "He is one of those kids that works, works, works. He just loves basketball."

Junior Quenten Morgan hit a team-best 41 three-pointer last season, averaged 5.8 points a game and always provided the Pirates with an energetic boost when they needed it the most.

"He is going to make us go," Valentine said of Morgan. "He is a sparkplug."

Junior Kobe Combs (2.5 points a game) returns along with seniors Edward Sexton (2.0 ppg) and Nick Harrison (3.8 ppg).

Canon Cummins, Isaiah Dorsey, Caleb Moore and Koty Roberts all got varsity minutes last season and will be called on to step into bigger roles.

Senior forward James Brennan has returned to the team this season and will provide some added toughness.

"He is strong willed and hard-nosed," Valentine said of Brennan. "You are not going to push him around."

Senior Rey Alejandro has limited basketball experience, but the standout lineman on the school's football team has impressed the new coaching staff with his skill level.

"He will help Jayden Smith on the inside," Valentine said.

Smith and Dorsey were Berea Community's top two scorers last season -- combining for 30 points a game.

They will be expected to produce offensively again, of course, but Valentine wants the seniors to really take ownership of the team.

"You need to let these other kids know they that can help you guys," Valentine said. "Don't push them away. Let them know that they are here to help. You can't do it alone."

If Dorsey and Smith get enough help, the Pirates have a chance to make some history.

Berea Community has not won a 44th District championship since the 1987-88 season.

The Pirates have never advanced to the All "A" State Tournament in program history.

They play host to the regional this season and winning that title would be a incredible accomplishment for the school.

"That would be a dream come true," Valentine said of winning the 11th Region All "A" championship.

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