Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

April 3, 2013

All-Area Boys Basketball: Russell comes up roses

Skaggs, Kidwell shine for Devils

ASHLAND — The only hole in Russell’s boys basketball resume was a 16th Region title this season, but that didn’t stop area coaches from deeming the Red Devils deserving of esteemed recognition.

Kyle Skaggs and Merle Kidwell were voted Player and Coach of the Year, respectively, on The Independent 2012-13 All-Area Boys Basketball Team, as determined by area coaches’ votes.

Senior Kyle Skaggs, a four-time All-Area selection, showed very few flaws in his game throughout a storybook six-year varsity career. The 6-foot-2 guard set the all-time scoring mark at Russell with 2,612 career points. In his final campaign, Skaggs averaged 25 points per game and shot 80 percent from the foul line — he visited the charity stripe nearly 300 times. He rattled off eight 30-point performances.

“If you came into our practices and our locker room, you wouldn’t know he’s our star. He’s a once-in-a-coaching-career-type player,” said Kidwell, who polished off his fifth season at the helm with a 16th Region All “A” crown, an Eastern Kentucky Conference championship, a 63rd District title and a region tournament semifinal appearance.

Russell went 26-8 overall, its last loss coming against region runner-up Rowan County — a 53-50 defeat.

“It took me a couple days to get over that loss because you don’t get a lot of chances to get to Rupp Arena, and we felt like we were kind of destined to get there,” Kidwell said. “But we couldn’t let one game exemplify our season.”

Russell won 22 games inside the region, one of those an impressive 67-62 road victory over eventual region champion Fleming County.

Kidwell became the first coach to be named both girls’ and boys’ Coach of the Year. He grabbed the honor on the girls’ side with Russell in 2007.

Both Skaggs and Kidwell called their awards “team awards.”

“We know that team chemistry is something you can’t practice,” Skaggs said. “You have to build that with each other. I attribute a lot of that to our success this year.”

Kidwell also delivered praise the direction of assistant coaches Joe Bryan and Chris Merkle.

Skaggs will likely not pursue college basketball. The Governor’s Scholar has plenty of academic options.

“Basketball is not the end-all for him,” Kidwell said. “Kyle wants to be a doctor.”

Russell produced two more All-Area selections: Jacob Porter and Lance Evans. Porter was a 37-percent 3-point shooter, scoring 12 points per contest. He was a pivotal piece to Russell’s fluid ball movement and solid defense as well. Evans transferred from Boyd County before his senior season. He had virtually no varsity experience before suiting up for the Red Devils, but the 6-5 forward made an impact early and often.

“We knew before the season that Lance was going to have a good year, it’s just I don’t think he knew that,” Skaggs said. “He was kind of hesitant coming in without any experience. But he became one of our best players.”

Evans made 52 percent of his field goal attempts and brought down 8.1 rebounds per game.

Ashland matched Russell with three All-Area selections in Logan Salow, Nick Miller and Dikembe Dixson. Dixson, a 6-6 sophomore, scored at an 18.8 PPG-clip while tallying 7.9 boards a game in his first year as a Tomcat. Miller netted 12.1 PPG. Salow, the lone Tomcat senior selected, battled through injuries to re-emerge as a starter and leader all while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.

Salow’s most remarkable long-range jumper came against Fleming County in the region semifinals. A baseline trey bounced all around the rim before dropping through to send the game to double overtime.

While Salow recovered from a lingering ankle sprain and then suffered a concussion, the whole team encountered its share of downs before finishing on an upswing. In one span, the Tomcats lost eight of 13 games.

“It finally hit us. We were like, we’re losing way too many games,” Salow said. “Our pride came out. We started playing together and playing hard.”

The Panthers got the best of the Tomcats when it was all said and done, but Ashland wasn’t alone.

Fleming County was 28-7 overall, which set a school record for wins. The Panthers were also 20-1 against region foes.

Point guard Darion Burns and small forward Troy Steward, both juniors, had much to do with Fleming County’s first region championship since joining the 16th in 2005. The Panthers lost to John Hardin in the Sweet Sixteen first round.

Burns made his living by relentlessly driving to the hoop en route to 17.3 PPG. Steward was the team’s top scorer at 18.4 PPG and best rebounder with 6.5 RPG.

“I just got to the basket a lot more, stopped settling for jump shots,” said Steward, the 6-3 cousin of former Mason County and Tennessee standout Chris Lofton.

Boyd County further solidified its program turnaround with 21 wins, the Lions’ most in over a decade. The team tallied a mere two victories just three seasons ago.

Austin Hunt, in his sole season with Boyd County, helped lead the Lions with 16.2 PPG and 5.8 RPG.

West Carter’s Kyle Brown capped off his illustrious career by setting a slew of school records, including owning the all-time boys’ scoring mark with 1,917 points. Brown poured in 23.8 points per game while pulling down 9.6 rebounds a contest.

Other All-Area selections from the 16th Region include East Carter’s Kyle Stewart (12.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG); Lewis County’s Brett Ruckel (21.8 PPG, 220-of-277 FTs); Rowan County’s Tyler Thacker (15.0 PPG); Elliott County’s Logan Nickell (20.1 PPG, 41.5 3-Pt. FG Pct.); Morgan County’s Jordan Perry; and Menifee County’s Drew Swartz.

Both Thacker and Perry helped their squads to 20-win seasons. Thacker was once again key for the Vikings as they fell just short of a region three-peat — the junior guard tore his ACL during the region final against Fleming County.

Johnson Central junior Shane Hall, a 6-8 forward with a growing list of Division I offers, led the Golden Eagles to their second consecutive 15th Region championship. Hall had 15.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG and racked up 92 blocks.

Rounding out the All-Area team is Paintsville’s Trevor Tiller and Lawrence County’s Austin Chaffins. Chaffins shot 50 percent from the field and scored 10.7 PPG as he helped lead Lawrence County to a 20-11 record.

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