John Fraley was in Rupp Arena the night his older brother hit the shot that made their Dad a state championship-winning coach. Yet John did not see it.
When Shannon Fraley flipped in a runner in the lane with 10 seconds left in the 1986 Kentucky Boys’ Sweet Sixteen finals, it broke a tie and propelled Coach Dave Fraley’s Pulaski County Maroons past Pleasure Ridge Park for the state championship.
John, then 6, missed it all. Amongst a crowd of 18,000, he was asleep in his sister Keena’s lap.
When the shot went in, “My sister got excited and stood up,” John Fraley recalls. “That dumped me in the floor. I woke up, and it’s pandemonium.”
On Wednesday night, John Fraley, now 37, will be back in Rupp for the Sweet Sixteen. Now the first-year head coach at Pulaski County, Fraley has the 12th Region champions (27-7) in the Boys’ State Tournament for the first time since 1992. The Maroons will face tournament favorite Scott County (30-5) at 8 p.m.
For the Fraleys, Pulaski County’s return to the Boys’ State Tournament after a quarter century is a family reunion. Shannon Fraley, 48, will be on the PC bench as an assistant to his younger brother.
Colton Fraley, Shannon’s son, is a freshman point guard for the Maroons. Just as Shannon set up PC star Reggie Hanson in 1986, it is Colton’s job to get the ball to current Pulaski standouts Steven Fitzgerald (25.2 points a game), Landon Powell (17.9) and Treyvon Sylvester (15.5).
Thrust into the unfamiliar role of spectator is Dave Fraley. In an eventful career that has seen him retire from coaching three times and return to coaching three times, Dave Fraley led Pulaski County to four region championships. He also won region titles at Powell County (1974) and Knott County Central (2010).
Currently in his second stint as head coach at Powell County, Dave Fraley, 74, says no part of his career prepared him for how nervous he was last week watching two of his sons coaching and his grandson playing as Pulaski County tried to win the region tourney.
“When I am coaching, I at least felt like I have a little bit of control,” Dave Fraley says. “Being a fan, you are dealing with all the nerves and emotion with no influence on the outcome. If I didn’t know it before, being a fan is tough.”
In the 12th Region finals, as Pulaski County was closing out Mercer County in a 69-55 win, Colton Fraley glanced into the stands. His grandfather caught his eye.
“There was about a minute and a half left and we were kind of celebrating on the floor,” Colton Fraley says. “I looked up in the stands and (Dave Fraley) was standing up and screaming and yelling ‘It’s not over.’ He was nervous, and his coaching kicked in a little bit.”
With John assuming the head coaching job at Pulaski County this year, Dave is not the only Fraley who has had to adjust to a different family dynamic.
When Shannon Fraley was a star guard at Pulaski, John hero-worshiped his older brother. “It wasn’t like you were trying to live Michael Jordan’s shots,” he says, “because I was living my brother’s shot (that won the state tournament).”
It has to be a little weird for both brothers now that the younger is running the bench they share during games.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely different,” said Shannon Fraley, the Vice President of Field Operations for the construction firm D.W. Wilburn Inc. “But we’ve kind of gotten used to it.”
In high school, John was a better golfer than hooper. Yet, by the time he went to Eastern Kentucky University, he had decided to go into the family business as a basketball coach.
“My wife makes fun of me,” he says. “We went to college together and I would always sit there and doodle, but I didn’t doodle names. I doodled basketball plays.”
John was just getting out of college when Dave Fraley returned for a second stint as Pulaski coach, so John got started working for his Dad as an assistant. He subsequently served as a middle school coach in Pulaski County. After Steve Wright left South Laurel for Pulaski Southwestern, John was as an assistant for him at Pulaski County’s intracounty rival.
There was only one school, however, where John could see himself as a head coach.
“I was like, ‘There’s only one job,” John Fraley says of Pulaski County. “I knew that all along. I grew up in this gym. It’s meant so much to me for us to get the team back (to the state tourney), first time in 25 years, for this community.”
The Fraleys will be back in Rupp this week hoping to write a next chapter in the scene of a pivotal moment in the family history.
Shannon Fraley says he has rationed the number of times he has watched video of his shot that won the 1986 Sweet Sixteen with Colton. “I don’t want that to be pressure for him,” Shannon says. “Mostly, we talk about the here and now and what he needs to do.”
Colton Fraley says he’s only seen video of his Dad’s shot that beat PRP “four or five times. It makes me smile every time.”
John Fraley — who slept through his brother’s heroics in real time — has subsequently watched video of the shot a time or two.
“I’ve watched it a thousand times since,” he says.
Boys’ Sweet Sixteen
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
Coming Wednesday: A special section previewing the 100th boys’ state basketball tournament and celebrating its history.