Johnson Central’s coach couldn’t bear to watch any longer.
“I watched one quarter of film, then turned the daggum thing off because it scared me to death,” quipped sixth-year coach Tommy McKenzie.
McKenzie was referring to his team’s next opponent, Louisville Ballard. The Golden Eagles, at Rupp Arena for the second straight season, will take on the heavily favored Bruins tonight at 6:30 in the opening round of the KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen.
According to the Cantrell ratings, Ballard is the No. 1 team in the tournament while Johnson Central is the polar opposite, at 16th.
“We’ve got a tough draw. I told the kids, ‘You know the saying, we could shock the world? We could shock the state for sure,’” McKenzie said.
Johnson Central (22-10) is coming off its second consecutive 15th Region championship run. Highly touted 6-foot-9 junior Shane Hall was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight year after helping lead the way past Prestonsburg, Pikeville and Sheldon Clark.
The Golden Eagles are making the most of their trip, having arrived on Tuesday. They practiced in the University of Kentucky’s Joe Craft Center on Wednesday morning before taking in Madison Central’s 81-56 win over Wayne County from the stands.
“I think I enjoyed it better than the players did, growing up a UK fan,” McKenzie laughed about practicing where the current crop of Wildcats practice. “These guys will look back and remember these types of things.”
Today’s game will feature two of the nation’s best Class of 2014 prospects. Hall is No. 83 on rivals.com. He has received scholarship offers from Tennessee, Butler and UAB, among several other schools. Quentin Snider, Ballard’s point guard, is ranked No. 33 and has already verbally committed to Louisville.
While McKenzie said Hall prefers to stay out of the spotlight, his play suggests otherwise. His 92 blocks this season hoisted him to seventh all-time in Kentucky high school history — he’s on pace to break the current mark, according to the school. His 813 career rebounds are a school record.
Even while battling injuries, Hall averaged 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks a game — he played in 26 of the Golden Eagles’ 32.
“He’s such a selfless player,” McKenzie said. “He hates the spotlight being on him. You don’t see that a lot.”
There are other Golden Eagles of whom to take note.
All five players who started in a 49-36 Sweet Sixteen first-round loss to John Hardin a season ago are back. Braxton Blair is the team’s second-leading scorer (13.9 PPG), while lanky 6-6 sophomore Kyle Gullett (9.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG) has made significant strides this season.
“We like for people to come watch Shane and leave talking about somebody else also,” McKenzie said.
Much of the talk heading into this tournament has revolved around Ballard (AP No. 2), which elminated top-ranked Trinity in the Seventh Region championship game at Valley High School in Louisville this past Saturday.
Snider poured in 21 points and pulled down nine boards in the 57-46 defeat of the Shamrocks.
Ballard (29-4) has won 15 straight games, all by double digits. Its only loss to a Kentucky school this season came against Trinity — a 53-52 loss six weeks ago.
“Ballard’s not just very athletic and very talented. They also work their tails off,” McKenzie said. “We know we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve just got to take care of business on our end.”
McKenzie said Johnson Central is accustomed to being the team that presses and causes turnovers in the 15th Region. The Golden Eagles are now preparing to face relentless pressure themselves.
“We’re telling our kids right now, ‘They’re going to make shots. Don’t get caught up in if they dunk the ball, or if we turn it over. Move on to the next play,’” McKenzie said. “If we can give ourselves a chance at the end, that’s all we can ask for.”
Snider is complemented by Kelan Martin (19.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and Lavonne Holland (14.1 PPG) for Ballard.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.
Johnson Central knows an upset of Ballard would 'shock the state'
Johnson Central’s coach couldn’t bear to watch any longer.
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VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
- Fleming hangs tough to beat Lewis Fleming County locked into another fight against Lewis County, which beat the Panthers earlier this season, before winning 66-58 on Monday in Morehead. Wilder Williams posted a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Panthers, who face Ashland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
- GALLERY: Ashland gets by Greenup County, will meet Fleming in region final Ashland's Steven Friley scored 21 points Monday to lead the Tomcats to an 81-61 win over Greenup County in the 16th Region semifinal in Morehead.
Kittens clamoring for more at state
Ashland girls basketball coaches went the extra mile, and a whole bunch more, to get a first-hand scouting report on the Kittens’ opponent for the State Tournament.
Head coach Bill Bradley and assistant Phil Wittich drove all the way to Henderson — 5 hours, 20 minutes one way Bradley said on the way home — to take in Sunday’s Second Region championship game.
Henderson County, playing on its home floor, defeated University Heights 67-54. The Lady Colonels went unbeaten in their region this season and are 24-5 overall.
EKC hands out hardware
The Eastern Kentucky Conference handed out its 2014 awards on Monday afternoon at a luncheon at Carter Caves.
Barracudas earn kudos from coach
Ashland Area YMCA swimmers impressed coach Ryan Ferguson from start to finish in the three-day Kentucky Y Competitive Swim League State Meet.
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