Region: 15th Record: 22-10 Enrollment: 1,048
Tommy McKenzie is in his sixth season (116-69) with the Golden Eagles and has them in the state tournament for the second year in a row. McKenzie played on Johnson Central's 2000 Sweet Sixteen team, and was an assistant on the 2006 state tournament team.
Player Height Class Points
Shane Hall 6-8 Jr. 15.5
Braxton Blair 5-11 So. 13.9
Dalton Adkins 5-6 So. 7.5
Slade McPeek 5-11 Jr. 8.0
Truman Salyer 6-6 So. 7.0
Last year, Johnson Central started three sophomores and two freshmen in the Sweet Sixteen. They're still young, but you can't say they're inexperienced. "These guys have grown up fast," McKenzie said. "They've played in a lot of big games in high school and traveling AAU, and they've had a lot of success." The Golden Eagles had to overcome adversity this season with Hall sidelined at times with injuries. Blair and McPeek became more consistent scorers. McPeek has also shone on defense. Salyer and Kyle Gullett are reliable outside shooters.
Shock and awe
McKenzie remembers the first time he walked into Rupp Arena when Johnson Central made the 2000 Sweet Sixteen. "It was surreal," he said. "I'd never been there before, never even for a UK game. It was neat, looking up and seeing our fans." Since Johnson Central was here last year, McKenzie hopes his players won't get caught up in what he calls "the shock and awe of it all."
Player to watch
It's been a trying winter for Hall, who started the season rated the fifth best player in the state. He suffered a high ankle sprain in December, and missed 11 games. He also had a foot sprain that slowed his recovery. Hall, who is averaging 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds, still isn't 100 percent. "He's still got a lot of swelling in both ankles, and still has some discomfort when he makes sharp cuts. I think it's taken a toll more mentally that physically," McKenzie said." Hall has scholarship offers from Tennessee and Butler, among others.
Johnson Central has won back-to-back region titles for the first time in school history. This is its seventh Sweet Sixteen.
Region: 7th Record: 29-4 Enrollment: 1,937
Chris Renner is in his 16th year at Ballard and has a record of 409-95. He guided the Bruins to the 1999 title, and runner-up finishes in 2003, '07, '10.
Player Height Class Points
Quentin Snider 6-1 Jr. 19.6
Kelan Martin 6-6 Jr. 19.1
Lavonne Holland 6-0 Sr. 14.1
Malik Dow 6-3 Fr. 4.0
Dontez Byrd 5-9 Sr. 3.6
Ballard knows who butters its bread — all-state candidates Snider, Martin and Holland. Snider (who's committed to Louisville), teams with Holland in the backcourt. Martin is a beast inside (10 rpg). "If one of them isn't playing well, the other guys step up," Renner said. "Having three all-state players is a nice luxury to have. We have other guys who could put up 20 points if they were on another team, but they accept their roles here." While the Bruins lead the state in scoring (80 ppg), Renner said they wouldn't have won the region "if we hadn't finally committed to being a good defensive team."
That AAU bugaboo
Coaching talented players sometimes requires ridding them of habits picked up in AAU ball. "I never felt the kids were playing selfish, but they had an AAU mentality of taking plays, taking quarters, even taking games off. And they weren't committed to playing defense." Ballard's schedule included national powers, and while that provided great competition, the Bruins tended to relax against lesser teams. "But we got past all that, and the kids are committed and playing hard now," Renner said.
Player to watch
Snider and Martin were the first two freshmen to start for Renner. Now along comes Dow. "It's scary to say, but Malik is already one of our tougher players," Renner said. Dow has the right attitude and the right genes. "He's not worried about being a freshman stud. He understands his role," Renner said. His cousin is former Ballard basketball/football star Devante Parker (now a standout receiver at Louisville). "You can see some of the same features and mannerisms," Renner said. "But Malik's already got Devante's body as a freshman."
Ballard is in the Sweet Sixteen for the 15th time. It won titles in 1977, 1988 and 1999, and was runner-up in 1987, 2003, 2007 and 2010. Its overall state tournament record is 29-11.
2013 Sweet Sixteen Preview Ballard's talented trio eye title
Mike Fields: You never know at the state tournament
Sweet Sixteen tournament bracket
Pre-season team, player ratings
Game 1 (Noon, Wed.): Wayne Co. vs. Madison Central
Game 2 (1:30 pm, Wed.): Holmes vs. PRP
Game 3 (6:30 pm, Wed.): Graves Co. vs. Ohio Co.
Game 4 (8 pm, Wed.): Hopkinsville vs. South Oldham
Game 5 (Noon, Thu.): Warren Central vs. Montgomery Co.
Game 6 (1:30 pm, Thu.): Fleming Co. vs. John Hardin
Game 7 (6:30 pm, Thu.): Johnson Central vs. Ballard
Game 8 (8 pm, Thu.): Knott Co. Central vs. Clay Co.
Region players and coaches of the year
Past boys' Sweet Sixteen champions