High school Basketball Season Preview

High school basketball preview: Ballard boys No. 1

Ballard knows odds are long, wouldn't trade with anybody

mfields@herald-leader.comDecember 1, 2013 

In the last 30 years only five teams that were voted No. 1 in the Herald-Leader's pre-season boys' basketball rankings went on to win the state title the next spring.

So what does it mean that Ballard, led by Mr. Basketball candidates Quentin Snider and Kelan Martin, is an overwhelming top choice going into the 2013-14 season?

"It means nothing," Coach Chris Renner said, speaking from first-hand experience.

After Ballard won the 1999 state title, it returned standouts Brandon Bender, Mac Wilkinson and Cedric Knight, and was a near-unanimous pick to repeat as champ.

It didn't happen. The Bruins didn't even make it out of the 7th Region that season.

Since 1983, only Fairdale (1990 and '91), Scott County (2007), Mason County (2008) and Trinity (2012) have been No. 1 in November and state titleists in March. Nevertheless, it would be next to impossible to find a coach who wouldn't take Ballard's roster this season and run with it.

Renner knows he has the makings of a great team.

Snider, a senior point guard and Louisville signee, and Martin, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound senior and Butler signee, give Ballard the best one-two combination in the state. Bruins junior Jalen Perry and sophomore Malik Dow are stars-in-waiting.

"It's a nice luxury to have two high-major guys like Quentin and Kelan," Renner said. "And we've got a lot to go with them."

Ballard was pre-season No. 1 last year, too, and came oh-so-close to winning it all. Ken-Jah Bosley hit a three-pointer with five seconds left to give Madison Central a stunning 65-64 championship victory.

It was Ballard's fourth runner-up finish in the last 11 years. Three of those title-game losses were to teams led by future Mr. Basketball winners — Mason County and Chris Lofton in 2003; Shelby Valley and Elisha Justice in 2010; Madison Central and Dominique Hawkins last March. Scott County beat the Bruins in the 2007 finals.

Renner has come to terms with coming so close so many times. "Making it to the state tournament and getting to the championship game is an incredible journey in itself. I have an appreciation for that," he said.

Scott County Coach Billy Hicks, whose teams have won two state titles and been runners-up twice, said "only a fool, only a nut, would criticize Chris for losing those (title) games. He won about 10 big ones to get there."

Ballard has plenty of competition this time around.

No. 2 Pleasure Ridge Park, the defending 6th Region champ, returns key players LaMontray Harris, Antonio McDaniels and D'Angelo Hunter. "If those three come into their own, we'll have a fun season," Coach Dale Mabrey said.

(Ballard and PRP were 1-2 in the pre-season ratings 25 years ago. PRP went on to win the state title. Could history repeat itself? "I hope so," Mabrey said with a laugh.)

No. 3 Scott County has high-scoring senior guard Trent Gilbert back, and the Cardinals have added 7-foot Raekwon Long, a transfer from North Carolina.

No. 4 Holmes, defending 9th Region champ, is led by junior guard James "Beetle" Bolden, one of the most electrifying players in the state.

No. 5 Trinity, which figures to be Ballard's toughest challenger in the 7th Region, has senior veterans Trey Ivory and Craig Owens, and 6-9 Ray Spalding, one of the top juniors in Kentucky.

Knott County Central, Hopkinsville and Warren Central, who are rated 6-7-8, all have key starters back from region title teams.

Knott Central (14th Region) features junior star Camron Justice. Hopkinsville (2nd) is led by Jaqualis Matlock. Warren Central (4th) returns Chris Porter-Bunton and Byron Carver.

No. 9 Perry County Central, led by WKU signee Justin Johnson and sophomore point guard Braxton Beverly, and No. 13 Cordia (if its transfers are ruled eligible) are expected to battle Knott Central in the 14th.

Lafayette, led by Jackson Davis, who's committed to Rice, is in the pre-season top 10 for the first time since 1991.

As talented as Ballard is, there is no guarantee the Bruins will be cutting down the nets in March. Renner knows that from experience, and so does Hicks.

"After we won (the state title) in 1998, I had the best team I've ever had in '99," Hicks said. "We were No. 3 in the nation. But Ballard beat us in the finals.

"That's why it'll drive you crazy if you start the season thinking you've gotta win the state. That's too much pressure to put on any high school team."

Holmes Coach Jason Booher noted that if it's a David vs. Goliath matchup in the Sweet Sixteen, David's always got a shot. He was the coach at Shelby Valley in 2010 when it became the first mountain team in 14 years to win the title. The Wildcats beat big-city Ballard in the finals.

"It's a good thing it's not the NBA and a seven-game series," Booher said. "If you get to Rupp Arena, anything can happen in one game."

As history has shown, being ranked No. 1 in the pre-season can be a burden. Booher doesn't mind that it's on somebody else.

"Ballard is loaded with all kinds of talent and they're an overwhelming favorite. Chris Renner can take all that pressure and run with it," Booher said with a smile.

How pre-season No. 1 teams fared over last 30 years

Season Pre-season No. 1 State champ Pre-season No. 1's finish
2012-13 Ballard Madison Central Lost in state finals
2011-12 Louisville Trinity Louisville Trinity Won title
2010-11 Jeffersontown Christian County Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
2009-10 Holmes Shelby Valley Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
2008-09 Scott County Holmes Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
2007-08 Mason County Mason County Won title
2006-07 Scott County Scott County Won title
2005-06 South Laurel Jeffersontown Lost in state quarterfinals
2004-05 Scott County South Laurel Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
2003-04 Mason County Warren Central Lost in state finals
2002-03 Lexington Catholic Mason County Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
2001-02 Male Lexington Catholic Lost in state semifinals
2000-01 Male Lafayette Lost in state finals
1999-00 Ballard Elizabethtown Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1998-99 Scott County Ballard Lost in state finals
1997-98 Lexington Catholic Scott County Lost in state semifinals
1996-97 Paintsville Eastern Lost in state semifinals
1995-96 University Heights Paintsville Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1994-95 Harlan Breckinridge County Lost in state semifinals
1993-94 Harlan Fairdale Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1992-93 Lexington Catholic Marion County Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1991-92 Pleasure Ridge Park University Heights Lost in state quarterfinals
1990-91 Fairdale Fairdale Won title
1989-90 Fairdale Fairdale Won title
1988-89 Ballard Pleasure Ridge Park Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1987-88 Clay County Ballard Lost in state finals
1986-87 Hopkinsville Clay County Lost in state quarterfinals
1985-86 Scott County Pulaski County Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1984-85 Seneca Hopkinsville Didn't make Sweet Sixteen
1983-84 Henry Clay Logan County Lost in state quarterfinals

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.

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