It seemed Paintsville was destined to win the 1987 state championship and it was hoped that their tough schedule had prepared them for this moment.
The Tigers advanced to the “Sweet 16” Final Four with wins over Monticello and Owensboro before being knocked out by Louisville Ballard and their star player and future Mr. Basketball, sophomore Allan Houston.
Looking back, some 25 years after the loss, Coach Runyon recalled, “Was I destroyed that we lost? I still am. The state championship was there for the taking. I clearly think we had the best TEAM in the state that year, I really do.” He went on to laud the 1987 team, “They were the group that finally set the standard for future Paintsville teams, they finally got us over the hump of making it to the state tournament and giving the community an opportunity to go to Rupp Arena and watching Paintsville play in it. They were the group that actually built Paintsville High School basketball!”
A few weeks after the end of the season, John Pelphrey was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, the top player in the state. He still had yet to make a decision on where he would play college, but was still being actively pursued by Vanderbilt, Marshall, and Louisville. His teammates, Joey Couch and Mike Minix, had already decided where they would play at the next level. Joey, an All-State football player as well as an All-State basketball player, would be playing football at the University of Kentucky. Mike Minix, an All-State baseball player, would be playing baseball at Vanderbilt University.
After being named Mr. Basketball, Pelphrey began to be actively pursued by the University of Kentucky, which easily signed him. Pelphrey would go on to have a distinguished career at UK, scoring 1,257 points, while playing in 114 games. He was defeated in his last collegiate game by Christian Laettner and Duke University in what many considered to be the greatest college game ever played. His jersey hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena to be remembered, always, as one of UK’s “Unforgettables.”
The cupboard wasn’t completely bare, as Keith Adkins and Jerry Pelphrey, John’s brother, would be returning for the next season. But it was the 1986-87 Paintsville Tigers that would be the measuring stick for all future Tiger teams. Would a small school like Paintsville ever again have the talent to get back to the “Sweet 16?”