Shaking off the winter doldrums
The slog days of winter (a frozen version of the dog days of summer) are upon us, especially for basketball teams trudging through the cold, uninspiring parts of their schedules.
The initial excitement that comes with the start of the season is followed by the change-of-pace holiday tournaments. New Year's Day, however, brings the realization that district-tournament time is still two long months away. Small schools competing in the All "A" Classic might get a (Touchstone Energy) boost, but everybody else has to find a way to cope with the gloom of a routine winter.
How do coaches keep their teams motivated?
David Henley, who has led Holmes to three consecutive state tournaments, capped by a state title last year, challenges his players' mental toughness. "You can only give so many 'win-one-for-the-Gipper, fire-and-brimstone' speeches," Henley said. So he asks his players "to get ready and be focused when there's no band, no cheerleaders and the gym is half full."
This time of the season, Clark County Coach Scott Humphrey shortens team practice time, which frees up time to work with players individually. "All that being said, if you don't have goal-driven kids, they may be looking for the finish line and not improve individually or collectively."
Elizabethtown girls' coach Tim Mudd, who led his team to the 1998 state title, said he tweaks his practices, making them shorter, increasing the intensity, and scrimmaging a little more. "I think this saves legs, and we stay fresher," he said. "Heck, it has worked most likely because we've had good players."
Steve Wright, who guided South Laurel's boys to a state title in 2005, said district games that determine tournament seeds help to keep his team focused during January. He doesn't start shortening practices until February.
Similarly, Warren Central boys' coach Tim Riley, whose Dragons made the Sweet Sixteen six years in a row (including a state title in 2004), said his team stays motivated because it plays a district game six Friday nights in a row. But he also scales back practices — two days off each week — to keep his players fresh, mentally and physically. "I think the mental means more than the physical in a lot of ways."
■ Warren Central junior guard Jordan Franklin is back in the lineup after missing the first six weeks of the season with a stress fracture in his right leg. He had 11 points and 10 assists in the Dragons' win over Glasgow Tuesday night. Warren Central, rated 24th in the state, visits crosstown rival Bowling Green on Friday night. The No. 13 Purples, led by 6-foot-7 transfer Chane Behanan, are 16-1 and riding a 12-game winning streak.
■ The new-look Louisville Invitational Tournament began with 20 teams — all from Jefferson County. Friday night's quarterfinals at Bellarmine, however, look like a 7th Region party. Seven of the eight teams left in the LIT are in the 7th Region and rated in Dave Cantrall's top 25. Pleasure Ridge Park is the only 6th Region survivor. Friday's schedule: PRP vs. No. 1 Ballard, 3:30 p.m.; No. 2 Jeffersontown vs. No. 5 Trinity, 5; No. 19 Eastern vs. No. 20 Moore, 6:30; No. 10 Seneca vs. No. 23 Male, 8:15.
Jerry Wyman, who oversees athletics for Jefferson County's public schools, said the LIT has gone through "quite a few changes" over the years. It originally had eight Louisville teams and eight out-of-town teams. In recent years, there were 12 Louisville schools and four outsiders. Wyman said he "can't say for certain where we'll go from here." The LIT committee meets twice a year to look at possible changes.
■ Marion County's girls made a quick change in plans last Saturday and wound up suffering their first loss of the season. Coach Trent Milby got an 8 a.m. call telling him the Lady Knights' game against host Paul Laurence Dunbar in the Martin Luther King Classic, scheduled for 11 a.m., had been canceled. An hour later, Milby got a call from Lexington Catholic, asking whether Marion County wanted to take the place of snowed-in Caldwell County in the Dunkin' Donuts Shootout. The Lady Knights could play Walnut Hills (Ohio) Saturday afternoon at Lexington Catholic. Milby asked his players, and they jumped at the chance. Walnut Hills beat Marion County 51-45. "Mentally, we didn't play too well," Milby said. "But I'm glad we played." Milby said he doesn't buy the notion that a loss could help relieve the pressure created by a long winning streak. "But maybe it'll work out that way," he said. "On Sunday, we probably had our best practice in two years." Milby also noted that nobody cares how many games a team loses if it winds up as state champ. "One loss, 10 losses, we just want to win it at the end."
■ Lafayette's boys are off to a surprisingly strong start. Led by senior star Mike Walker, maybe the most underrated player in the 11th Region, they'll take a 13-1 record into Saturday's 5:45 game against Ryle in the S.T. Roach Classic at Paul Dunbar. Greg Coldiron is in his first season as Lafayette coach, but he knows how to handle a team on a hot streak. As coach at Powell County, his 2002-03 team started the season 15-2 and eventually made the Sweet Sixteen. Saturday's S.T. Roach Classic also has host Dunbar playing Highlands at 2:15 and Henry Clay taking on Danville at 4.
■ Shelby Valley's boys won the WYMT Mountain Classic, beating host Knott Central 60-57 in the finals. Tournament MVP Elisha Justice averaged 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals in three games. Shelby Valley's Ashley Hatfield, Taylor Newsome, Tyler Newsome and Cody Varney also made the All-Tournament team. The Wildcats are rated fourth in the state.
■ Mason County grad Trevor Setty, a freshman at Pikeville College, was the Mid-South Conference Player of the Week. Setty, who recently became eligible after transferring from Georgetown, is averaging 20 points and five rebounds in four games. He's hit 54 percent of his three-pointers.
■ North Hardin, led by sophomore Jermaine Ruttley's 21 points and six assists, beat archrival Elizabethtown 82-79. The victory gave the the Trojans a 66-65 edge in the long-running series.
■ Former Lexington Catholic star Natalie Novosel, a sophomore at Notre Dame, will be part of ESPN's first GameDay basketball coverage centering on a women's game when the No. 3 and undefeated Irish visit No. 1 and undefeated Connecticut on Saturday night. UConn has won 55 games in a row. Novosel is averaging seven points and three rebounds for Notre Dame. Twin brother Nathan Novosel, meanwhile, is averaging 10 points and six rebounds as a sophomore at Rochester. He had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) in a win over Geneseo on Tuesday night. Division III Rochester is 10-2.
■ Gary Stich, a 1973 Trinity graduate, will be inducted into the Tennessee-Chattanooga Hall of Fame next month. He played on the Moccasins' basketball team that won the 1977 Division II national title. He played pro ball in Europe and now lives in Switzerland.
■ A week after Herb Hammond was fired as Henry Clay baseball coach, he's going into the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame. Also being inducted during the KHSBCA's annual convention in Louisville this weekend are coaches Murph Howard (Pendleton County, Harlan), Chris Maxwell (Dixie Heights) and Denny Potts (Calloway County, St. Mary, Daviess County, Paducah Tilghman, Kentucky Wesleyan), and umpires Dirk Flinchum, Charlie Logsdon and Howard Sullivan.
■ Henry Clay senior infielder Ethan Boggs, second-team All-City last year, has signed to play college baseball at Pikeville.
■ Drew Freeman, an All-State left-handed pitcher/first baseman at Estill County, has transferred from Wabash Valley (Ill.) and will play at Asbury this spring.
■ Former Tates Creek football coach Roy Walton will be feted at a reception, dinner and roast Monday at the Lansdowne Signature Club. The party, celebrating Walton's 80th birthday, was originally scheduled for Nov. 30 but had to be postponed. The event starts at 6:30 p.m.
■ Aaron Stepp resigned as Franklin County's football coach after one season. Stepp told the State-Journal he needed to "realign" his priorities and put family first. Before taking over the Flyers, Stepp was at Harrison County for one year. Before that, he was at Clay County for six seasons. Franklin County went 1-10 last fall.