High School Basketball Preview: Talent redux

mfields@herald-leader.comNovember 27, 2011 

A TV show boasts that "America's Got Talent."

So does 11th Region boys' basketball this season, including several big-time prospects in Lexington.

"There's no question the talent in the region is remarkable," Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman said. "And the city is as good as I've seen it."

Madison Central Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. said "it's been a long time" since the region has had so many prospects. "It's kind of like it was back in the late 1970s and early '80s when there were so many Division I players around here."

The talent is spread among more than a half-dozen teams and includes a mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores.

"These things go in cycles," Scott County Coach Billy Hicks said. "The 11th Region is never really down, but I see it on an upswing. Maybe it'll recapture the glory days and start rolling out guys like Jack Givens and Dirk Minniefield again."

The city's senior class is headed by Lexington Christian Academy lefty sharpshooter Taylor Barnette, who signed with Central Florida.

LCA Coach Tommy Huston touts Barnette as a strong candidate for Mr. Basketball.

Scott County has a pair of D-I signees in Tamron Manning (Marshall) and Isaiah Ivey (Gardner-Webb).

As the highest-ranked senior in the state in a vote by coaches, Manning is regarded as the pre-season favorite for Mr. Basketball.

Jay Johnson of Woodford County signed with Tennessee Tech. The 6-foot-7 senior, who averaged a double-double last season, had ACL surgery this summer but could be back in the Yellowjackets' lineup by late December.

Lexington's junior class includes Bryan Station's Larry Morton, Paul Laurence Dunbar's Mike Smith (a transfer from Sayre) and Lexington Catholic's Jack Whitman.

Bryan Station Coach Mike Allen calls Morton, a physical 6-foot-3 guard, "a definite college player." Morton said he's drawing interest from WKU, Ohio University, Miami (Fla.), Xavier and Wisconsin.

The 5-11 Smith led the city in scoring as a freshman (19.2 ppg) and sophomore (22.8) at Sayre before transferring to Dunbar. He's made unofficial visits to EKU, IUPUI and, his favorite at the moment, Bowling Green.

Whitman, 6-9, is the tallest prospect in town. Salsman said Whitman's low-post offensive skills will make him "one of the biggest surprises in the state."

Whitman has taken unofficial visits to Duquense, Bucknell and Army. Georgia and Tennessee are keeping track of his progress.

In the region, the junior class includes Madison Central point guard Dominique Hawkins, who's been drawing attention from college scouts since he was a freshman.

Lexington sophomores Jordan Green and Trey Grundy, of Henry Clay, and Jackson Davis of Lafayette are getting a lot of recruiting buzz.

Big-name college coaches, including Tom Crean of Indiana, have been to Lexington to check out the 6-4 Green and 6-6 Grundy. They've already made unofficial visits to IU, Louisville, Purdue, Tennessee and Xavier. They also hooped it up with UK's players this summer.

"Both of them have a huge upside," Henry Clay Coach Daniel Brown said.

Green, who has a scholarship offer from New Mexico State, said he hasn't been distracted by all the attention.

"I just keep my head on straight, stay dedicated and work hard to keep getting better," he said.

Grundy said his parents "definitely keep me grounded, thank God. They help keep me on a straight path."

Davis, the son of former UK player Jonathan Davis, saw varsity action for Lafayette as a seventh-grader.

Now a 6-8 veteran, Davis said he as an offer from Illinois, and has talked with Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.

The last couple of years Davis has taken unofficial visits to Cincinnati, Purdue, IU and Xavier. He said he's in no hurry to pick a college.

"My dad tells me not to worry (about recruiting), just gather information, wait out the storm and wait until I'm older to make a decision," he said.

Feldhaus thinks the talent level in the region will make for a fun season. "We'll get to see great players night in and night out," he said. "The challenge will be not only for the players, but the coaches, too."

Salsman looks at the competition as "murderer's row. I don't know if anybody goes undefeated in the region this season. I could see somebody coming into the region tournament with a .500 record and win the title.

"The talent is there."

But Allen, who was a big-time prospect in his playing days at Bryan Station, cautioned that gifted players have to be willing to put their team first. "They've got to sacrifice for the jersey, which this generation sometimes has a hard time doing," he said.

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