Sweet Sixteen notes: Chris Stapleton's 'What Are You Listening To' a must-listen for Johnson Central

mfields@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2014 

Johnson Central got a one-of-a-kind pre-game send-off Wednesday night: a locker-room performance of What Are You Listening To by Grammy nominee Chris Stapleton.

Stapleton, a 1996 Johnson Central graduate, heard that the Golden Eagles had been using his song as their run-out music since early January.

Then his sister sent him a video of Johnson Central cutting down the nets after the 15th Region tournament, accompanied by his song.

"I kind of think it was maybe the worst sports anthem ever, but somehow they've attached themselves and it's become kind of a superstition," said Stapleton, who drove from Nashville to perform on his acoustic guitar.

"Hopefully, it rubs a little bit of extra good luck for them tonight. I want them to have a good time because this is a wonderful, big deal to be at the state tournament."

Johnson Central principal Noel Crum said the team picked up the tune after a sub-par December. The team had no run-out song until that point. One of the players suggested Stapleton, and a tradition was born.

Remembering a Panther

Kerry Benson, who played on Pleasure Ridge Park's 2006 Sweet Sixteen semifinal team, died in a car accident on March 3.

PRP Coach Dale Mabrey said his players will wear armbands with "25" (Benson's jersey number) on them in the Sweet Sixteen.

Mabrey recalled Benson as a "smooth, intelligent player. He was always calm, cool and collected. His facial expression never changed. The other kids fed off his calmness."

Benson was a walk-on at UK for the 2007-08 season.

Almost automatic

Trent Gilbert of Scott County is almost automatic when it comes to hitting free throws. He's made 280 of 308 foul shots this season, a 91 percent accuracy rate.

He said he's used the same routine at the line since he was in the sixth grade: "One dribble, look up at the rim, focus, put it in."

He's hit more than 160 in a row in practice, and he was 20-for-20 in a game against Lafayette this season.

He admits he gets "a little frustrated" when he misses a free throws "because it's a free shot and I don't get open much. But I don't let it affect my next one."

Taking down Rex

South Oldham principal Jeff Griffin, whose son Michael was a senior starter against Hopkinsville in the state tournament Wednesday, played in the Sweet Sixteen himself.

Jeff Griffin was a standout guard at Oldham County when the Colonels beat Murray in the first round in 1985, then knocked off Rex Chapman-led Apollo 76-68 in the quarterfinals in Rupp Arena.

Chapman was a high school star, but he evolved into a superstar at Kentucky and an NBA lottery pick.

"He was a pretty big name in high school, but not as big as he turned out to be," Griffin said. "A lot of people still remind me of that game when the state tournament comes around. It's fun to remember we beat Rex Chapman."

A labor of love

J.R. VanHoose, who led Paintsville to the 1996 state title and was Mr. Basketball in 1998, has completed a 10-year project to document his school's hoops history. VanHoose's book — Paintsville Tigers Basketball — A History — will be available this fall. It will have records and statistics of Paintsville teams and players since the program's beginning in 1922.

"It's been a great labor of love for me," VanHoose said.

Tigers Coach Bill Mike Runyon spurred VanHoose's project by simply asking him how many all-time victories Paintsville had. VanHoose took that and ran with it.

VanHoose played college basketball at Marshall, and he's currently the girls' coach at Phelps High School in Pike County.

UK's Antigua watches Trinity's Spalding

UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua was in Rupp Arena on Wednesday to watch Trinity forward Ray Spalding in the opening session of the Sweet Sixteen.

Spalding had seven points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals while playing just 16 minutes due to foul trouble as the Shamrocks beat Owensboro.

Antigua, who also watched Spalding play in last week's 7th Region championship game, talked to the class of 2015 standout before Wednesday's game and said he would be in attendance. The UK assistant had to leave before the final buzzer to catch the team flight to St. Louis, where the Cats will play Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Coaches from Indiana, Butler, Xavier, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Northwestern and Western Kentucky were all in Rupp to see Spalding play Wednesday. He already has scholarship offers from all of those schools.

Louisville Coach Rick Pitino watched Spalding last week. Pitino hasn't offered, but Spalding seemed excited by the interest in his recruitment.

"Growing up, I was more of a Louisville fan," he said. "It's excellent. It's a great honor to have those guys come and watch me play."

Scout.com rates Spalding as the No. 75 overall recruit in the junior class.

Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this article.

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