In ‘one-and-out’ world, is this Scott County’s year?

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Basketball - BY JOSH MOORE

Scott County has got­ten about as much of a chip on its shoul­der as a boys’ bas­ket­ball team that’s peren­ni­ally in the mix for a state ti­tle can have.

The Car­di­nals lost to 2016 state cham­pion Paul Lau­rence Dun­bar in the fi­nals of the 11th Re­gion Tour­na­ment that sea­son. They fell to Bowl­ing Green, the 2017 state champ, in the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Sweet Six­teen that year. Cov­ing­ton Catholic last sea­son de­feated Scott County for its first state cham­pi­onship, block­ing the Car­di­nals from what would have been their third.

That trend sug­gests that this sea­son is the one that’ll fi­nally end with scis­sors on the Rupp Arena floor.

“That don’t au­to­mat­i­cally punch you a ticket to the fi­nals, but it does get you ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Car­di­nals Coach Billy Hicks. “In Ken­tucky there’s al­ways at least 10, 15 or 20 teams that can beat any­body on a given night. Maybe they couldn’t beat ’em six out of seven or five out of seven, but on a given night?”

Hicks has been on the un­der­dog side of those odds.

“In 1998, if we’d played Lex­ing­ton Catholic 20 times, we might’ve beat ’em once, but that one time was in the semi­fi­nals of the state that year,” Hicks said, ref­er­enc­ing a game wherein his team scored 11 points in the fi­nal 36 sec­onds and beat the na­tion­ally-ranked Knights on a three-pointer at the horn. “That makes bas­ket­ball what bas­ket­ball is. I’d re­ally like our chances if it was a seven-game se­ries, but it’s one and out.”

No team in the com­mon­wealth returns as much ex­pe­ri­enced tal­ent as do the Car­di­nals, who will start four of the same play­ers who started in last year’s ti­tle game and played a big role in Scott County fin­ish­ing 37-2. Lead­ing the charge is Michael Moreno, a 6foot-6 Mr. Bas­ket­ball con­tender who’s on pace to eclipse 3,000 ca­reer points and 1,100 re­bounds. The se­nior has not yet com­mit­ted to a col­lege pro­gram but has of­fers from sev­eral mid­ma­jors

Glenn Cov­ing­ton,

Bryce Long and Di­ablo Ste­wart join Moreno as re­turn­ing starters. Cov­ing­ton, a foot­ball star, is one of the best de­fen­sive guards in the state. Long and Ste­wart should both av­er­age dou­ble-fig­ure scor­ing this sea­son; Long was less than a point away last year (9.2 ppg) and Ste­wart was third on the team at 11.7 (he also shot 42.6 per­cent from three-point range).

“This is a good group of kids,” Hicks said. “And they haven’t rested on their lau­rels. We’ve re­ally worked hard, get­ting ready for this year.”

If mem­bers of that four­some — plus Lorenzo Wil­liams and Cam Fluker, other key re­turnees who played in the fi­nals loss — were scarred by Cov­ing­ton Catholic, they haven’t ac­knowl­edged it.

“Kids are very res­o­lute, they’ve got a great way of putting things out of their mind and stuff like that,” Hicks said. “But, also deep inside ‘em, I think they’d like an­other shot at it.

“But there’s 17 other teams in the re­gion that want a shot at it too.”

THE NEXT FOUR Last sea­son’s record in paren­the­ses

2. Henry Clay (18-12): The Blue Devils have missed two straight re­gion tour­na­ments but are ex­pected to re­turn to Rich­mond in 2019. Se­niors Keas­ton Brown and Har­ris Hawkins and ju­nior Mar­ques War­rick will see that those ex­pec­ta­tions are met.

3. Madi­son Cen­tral (25-8): Talk about dif­fer­ing opin­ions — the In­di­ans were pegged as the state’s fifth-best team but picked third in the 11th Re­gion by its coaches. That could be due to Cen­tral grad­u­at­ing four of its five starters.

4. Lex­ing­ton Catholic (18-10): Luke John­son — the lat­est in a fam­ily of LexCath sharp­shoot­ers — might be the most ex­plo­sive of the bunch, and he’s just a sopho­more. Luke Vaughn, a 6-foot-7 se­nior who’s go­ing to play foot­ball at Mi­ami (Ohio), is an in­trigu­ing new­comer.

5. Lafayette (21-10): The Gen­er­als pushed Scott County to the brink in a reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing be­fore a re­match that got out of hand in the re­gion semi­fi­nals. A host of re­turnees should keep them in the thick of the 43rd District race.

TOP 11 PLAY­ERS (In al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der)

Keas­ton Brown, Henry Clay (Sr.): His sopho­more sea­son was trimmed due to a shoul­der in­jury but Brown bounced back last year, av­er­ag­ing 13 points and 2.9 re­bounds while play­ing ev­ery game for the Blue Devils. Camp­bellsville and Tus­cu­lum Univer­sity have of­fered him.

Isa­iah Cozart, Madi­son Cen­tral (Sr.): WKU’s lat­est in-state com­mit should set the state’s ca­reer record for blocked shots in the In­di­ans’ first week of play, if not their first game. He al­ready owns records for the sec­ond- and third-most blocks in a sin­gle sea­son.

Bran­don Cromwell, Wood­ford County (Sr.): The 6-foot-1 guard av­er­aged 16.6 points and 5.6 re­bounds last sea­son.

He’s en­ter­ing his third sea­son as a starter for the Yel­low Jack­ets, who last year reached the 11th Re­gion Tour­na­ment after miss­ing it in Ryan Wil­son’s first year as head coach.

Jared Gadd, Paul Lau­rence Dun­bar (Sr.): An in­flux of trans­fers could help Dun­bar shake things up in the 11th Re­gion but Gadd’s ex­pe­ri­ence is in­valu­able; he’s been a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor since the Bull­dogs’ state-ti­tle run in 2016 and av­er­aged 9.3 ppg last sea­son.

Ben John­son, Lex­ing­ton Catholic (So.): His scor­ing av­er­age was some­what de­ceiv­ing at 11.3 ppg, as John­son is

The fron­trun­ner for the 11th Re­gion’s Mr. Bas­ket­ball nom­i­na­tion has played in back-to-back state tour­na­ments and is a good bet to be a mem­ber of the 3,000-point/1,100-re­bound club by year’s end.

Kyle Rode, Lex­ing­ton Chris­tian Academy (Sr.): If the 11th Re­gion awards co-Play­ers of the Year this sea­son, it would likely be Rode sit­ting at the Mr. Bas­ket­ball ban­quet with Moreno, with whom he plays AAU ball. He led LCA to its first All “A” Clas­sic state cham­pi­onship last sea­son.

Di­ablo Ste­wart, Scott County (Sr.): He set­tled in after trans­fer­ring from Franklin County and pro­vided a spark for a team al­ready ripe with fire­power. Ste­wart shot 42.6 per­cent from long range and led the team in free-throw­ing shoot­ing (82.4 per­cent).

Kyle Stivers, Franklin County (Sr.): Stivers led the Fly­ers in scor­ing last sea­son (13.6 ppg) and will look to get them back to the 11th Re­gion Tour­na­ment after a brief ab­sence.

Jonathan Till­man, Frank­fort (Sr.): The 6-foot-6 for­ward (16.9 points, 10.8 re­bounds last year) led Frank­fort to the last two 11th Re­gion Tour­na­ments; be­fore that the Pan­thers hadn’t played in that event since 2007. They’ve not made three con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ances since mak­ing six straight trips from 2000-2005.

Mar­ques War­rick, Henry Clay (Jr.): A sec­ond-team All-City se­lec­tion as a sopho­more, War­rick was lethal from be­hind the three-point line last sea­son (45.8 per­cent) and also led the Blue Devils in free-throw per­cent­age (82.9) on his way to a team-high 16.1 ppg. Sev­eral mid-ma­jor schools have ex­pressed in­ter­est.



LCA’s Kyle Rode (22) and Frank­fort’s John Till­man (44) are among the top play­ers in the 11th Re­gion this sea­son.

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