The 8th Region boys' basketball picture went all blurry a couple of weeks ago when Collins got an unexpected roster upgrade. With two weeks left in the regular season, two talented brothers transferred in from Michigan and were ruled eligible to play for the Titans.
Collins, led by 6-foot-8 senior Brian Stone and 6-4 junior Dez Marshall, was already a region contender as it showed in knocking off state power Bullitt East in late January. But the addition of Norvis and Terez Smith, who moved from Trenton, Mich., to Simpsonville when their father got a job in Louisville this month, might make the Titans the favorites in the 8th.
"Both are really long and athletic," Coach Chris Gaither said. "Norvis (a 6-foot-4 senior) is that guard with long arms who comes off the bench and gives you a spark on the defensive side. Terez (a 6-6 junior) kind of reminds me of (UK's) Anthony Davis. He's not 6-10, but he's long and you can throw the ball up and he'll go get it. He rebounds well, and he moves his feet well on the defensive end and can block shots."
When the Smith brothers arrived at Collins in early February, they thought their basketball season was over. "They had no clue that Kentucky would allow them to play this year," Gaither said.
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But the KHSAA ruled them eligible on Feb. 8, and they played against Nelson County on Feb. 10. They've played in two more games since, a victory over Woodford County in the regular-season finale, and a win over Shelby County in the district semifinals Wednesday night.
Mixing new players into a rotation this late in the season could be a recipe for disaster, but Gaither said the addition of the Smiths "has, if anything, improved our chemistry. That's because they're great kids. Our other players are excited about having them here."
Gaither, an All-State guard at Grayson County 10 years ago and in his first season as Collins' head coach, thinks his team has the potential to win the region. "And with our length, size and quickness, if we can get to the state tournament I think we can bother a lot of people."
■ North Hardin is another team that has taken on a different look in February, the look of a region contender. Five players who were suspended in early December for disciplinary reasons, returned to the court two weeks ago and have helped North Hardin extend its winning streak to eight in a row, including a victory over defending region champ Bardstown. Seniors Jauan Akins, Sam Coachman and DuWayne White are playing again after a nine-week suspension. In their absence, Jermaine Ruttley and Adam Hendrix had to carry the load and the Trojans struggled to a 5-16 record. But Ron Bevars' team is now at full strength again, and the rest of the 5th Region knows it.
■ Covington Holy Cross, which won the boys' Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic earlier this month and was rated No. 13 in the state, was upset by Covington Catholic 81-74 in triple-overtime in the 35th District semifinals. Sawyer Pauly, a junior who was averaging seven points, had 20 to lead CovCath to victory. The Colonels' 17-12 record includes losses to top-25 teams Clark County, Dixie Heights, Lexington Catholic, Madison Central, Scott County and Simon Kenton. Holy Cross had a 14-game winning streak snapped and finished with a 28-3 record.
■ Henry Clay's boys were rated No. 18 in the state, so their 60-54 loss to Bryan Station in the 42nd semifinals was technically an upset. But city rivalries are always unpredictable. Bryan Station and Henry Clay have played each other 134 times since 1959. The Defenders' victory Wednesday night tied the series at 67-67. The second-closest rivalry in Lexington is between Bryan Station and Lafayette. They've clashed 113 times over the last 50 years, and the Defenders lead the series 57-56.
■ The biggest cheers on Senior Night last week at East Jessamine came when Kevin Courtney hit a free throw in a blowout win over Model. It was Courtney's only point of the season in his only game of the season. Courtney has been the Jaguars' team manager for four years. Coach Chris O'Bryan said it's a tradition to reward the managers for their hard work by letting them practice and play during senior week "to make them feel that much more a part of it all." Courtney is the third manager to score. "Brings a tear to the eye every time," O'Bryan said in an email.
■ The Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation, which sponsors Mr. and Miss Basketball and the Kentucky-Indiana summer all-star series, is changing the process for selecting the top boy and girl senior in the state. In years past, Mr. and Miss Basketball were determined by a vote of coaches. This year the coaches' votes (which have already been counted) will determine the top five candidates for Mr. and Miss Basketball. The top five girls will be announced during the girls' Sweet Sixteen, the top five boys at the boys' Sweet Sixteen. In the weeks following the state tournaments, some sports media, along with former Mr. and Miss Basketball honorees, will vote to select Mr. and Miss Basketball. The winners will be announced at an awards dinner in Louisville on April 28 in a Heisman Trophy-type ceremony. Dave Satterly of the Lions Eye Foundation said his goal is "to try to make sure we preserve Mr. and Miss Basketball, and make sure the right folks get it. This is the first year doing it this way, and we may have to tweak the process, but I think we're headed in the right direction."
■ Scott County's Billy Hicks has been chosen to coach in the McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago's United Center on March 28. Hicks and two of his Cardinals assistants, Chris Wilhite and Tim Glenn, will coach the East all-stars, including UK signee Alex Poythress. "If I can represent Kentucky high school basketball in any way, I'm glad to do it," Hicks said. "It's an honor." Hicks has more than 800 career victories, including two state championships. The McDonald's all-star game will be televised live on ESPN.
■ Raceland's 6-2 senior Brooke Gee had a triple-double (22 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocked shots) in a 50-47 victory over Russell in district play.
■ Defending girls' state champ Rockcastle County was bumped out of the post-season with a 58-48 loss to Pulaski County. The Rockets finished with a 14-14 record. Going into Thursday night's games, only two other girls' defending region champs are out of the playoffs — Calloway County (1st) and Crittenden County (2nd).
■ East Ridge eliminated three-time defending 15th Region boys' champ Shelby Valley from the playoffs. East Ridge, under first-year coach Preston LeMaster, beat the Cats 62-46. The only other boys' defending region champ gone from the post-season is Bell County (13th).
■ Madison Southern's Tyler Abshear has had a big junior season, averaging 22.6 points, including 19.9 against ranked teams. The 6-2 guard had a school-record 42 points against Frankfort last week. He had 30 points and 12 rebounds in the Eagles' overtime win against Model in the district semifinals Wednesday night. "He's very underrated and I really think some colleges will come calling next year," Coach Shane Buttry said.
■ Russell's 6-2 junior Kyle Skaggs, who's started since he was a seventh-grader, is averaging 24.4 points this season and has more than 1,800 in his career.
■ It went unnoticed, even by Ron Dawn, but the Newport Central Catholic girls' coach got his 400th career victory a few weeks ago. Dawn won 89 games as boys' coach at St. Henry and 223 as boys' coach at NewCath. He got his 88th win as NewCath's girls' coach on Feb. 3 against Lloyd, giving him 400 victories overall.
■ Lexington Catholic grad Jessica Lyden, a senior at Duke, won the 3-meter diving title at the ACC's swimming and diving championships.
■ Lexington Catholic senior Jared Fannin will play college golf at Campbellsville.
■ Henry Clay sophomore lacrosse player Austin Gardner has been named a high school All-American and will play in the Brine National Lacrosse Classic to be held in Boyds, Md., this summer. The event will include the top 400 underclassmen in the country. Sixteen regional teams will compete for a national title and qualify for an international tournament.
■ Henry Clay sophomore Mike Whalen won the 106-pound state wrestling crown Saturday night, giving the Blue Devils their 20th state title in the past 35 years, five in the past six years.