Three winters ago Keith O'Brien, a Boston Globe reporter, was looking for an off-the-beaten-path sports story that he could turn into a book. "I didn't want to do something on the Boston Red Sox," he said. "I wanted something obscure."
When he found out that Kentucky had the only big-show, single-class high school basketball tournament in the nation, he became "captivated by how much getting to Rupp Arena meant to these boys and men. The idea that 20,000 people could almost fill Rupp Arena at noon on a weekday for a basketball game was incredible," he said.
Thus was born the idea for Outside Shot, O'Brien's look at the 2009-10 high school hoops season in Kentucky. To tell his story, O'Brien hooked up with Scott County, which met his criteria: a rural (county) school good enough to compete for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen; "a place where basketball mattered, with a capital 'M,'" as O'Brien put it; and a coach and administration that would give him complete access to the basketball program from October through March.
The book focuses on Scott County's up-and-down season-long journey to the Sweet Sixteen and delves into the personal stories of Coach Billy Hicks and players Dakotah Euton, Ge-Lawn Guyn, Chad Jackson and Will Schu.
O'Brien said Scott County is merely the "vehicle" to tell the bigger story of the "power" of Kentucky basketball and why it means so much to so many people.
Hicks gives Outside Shot a thumbs up. "It's not just a sports book," he said. "It's a great history look at Kentucky, sports in Kentucky, even Toyota coming to Georgetown. Shoot, I was amazed at how accurate it is. And I learned things about my own family that I didn't know."
Scott County did make it to Rupp Arena that March, but it was a bumpy ride, and the Cards lost to Ballard in the state semifinals.
"It was sort of a troubled season, but in hindsight, the amount of adversity that team faced made for a more compelling story," O'Brien said. "This isn't a fairy tale. The truth is messy, complicated and has layers."
O'Brien will have a book signing at Lexington's Joseph-Beth Booksellers at 7 p.m. Monday. He'll also sign books at Scott County's Toyota Classic tournament on Jan. 18 and at Galvin's restaurant on Main Street in Georgetown at 7 p.m. Jan. 19.
■ Pleasure Ridge Park's Dale Mabrey became the third coach in state history to win 800 games when his Panthers beat Southern last week. Mabrey, in his 32nd season as PRP's coach, said he couldn't have reached the milestone without Larry Kihnley and Mike Baxter, his assistants for 30 and 29 years, respectively. "Larry and Mike both could've been head coaches long, long ago. But I've been blessed with having them stay with me," Mabrey said. "And I've been blessed with all the great players who've passed through these doors." Mabrey led PRP to the Sweet Sixteen title in 1989. The Panthers, led by Sean Hammonds and Andy Penick, edged Wayne County 75-73 in the title game. Mabrey, 56, said he's not ready to retire: "The fire's still burning." The late William Kean of Central had 856 victories, and Billy Hicks of Scott County has 826 and counting.
■ Dominique Hawkins became Madison Central's all-time leading scorer in boys' basketball a few days after Christmas in the Chick-fil-A Classic in West Virginia. But the Indians' coaching staff didn't let Hawkins know he'd broken Aaron Morgan's mark of 1,980 points. The coaches waited until after Hawkins reached the 2,000-point mark at home in a victory over Conner last Saturday. "Dominique has had a phenomenal year so far," Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. said. "It's going to be interesting to see how his (recruiting) picks up." Hawkins, a 6-foot-1 point guard, has offers from Western Kentucky University and Morehead State. Interest is picking up from Murray State and Tennessee.
■ Dixie Heights junior guard Brandon Hatton hit seven of 10 three-pointers and had a career high 40 points in a loss to Doss. Hatton, the Colonels' all-time top scorer with more than 2,000 points, has a shot at the 9th Region record of 2,865 points set by Scott Draud of Highlands in the mid-1980s. Hatton is averaging 26 points a game for Dixie Heights (11-5).
■ Good news, bad news for Johnson Central junior Shane Hall. The good: After sitting out the Golden Eagles' previous three games with a high ankle sprain, Hall had 11 points, including the 1,000th of his career, in a loss to Lawrence County. The bad: Hall sprained his other ankle and is sidelined again.
■ Pendleton County senior Mason Monroe's 15 points in a win over Calvary Christian moved him into second place on the school's scoring list with 1,908 points. The 5-9 guard is averaging 21.2 points, but he won't be able to overtake Talbert Turner, Pendleton County's No. 1 scorer, who had 3,193 points in the early 1980s.
■ No. 1 Ballard avoided an upset when Kelan Martin hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Central 74-73 on Tuesday. Martin, a 6-6 junior, had 22 points and 18 rebounds.
■ Covington Latin's Mitchell Blewett, who led the state in scoring last season with a 27.7 average, became the school's all-time leading scorer last week. Blewett pushed his career total to 1,392 points, surpassing the old mark of 1,375 set by David Justice in the early 1980s. Last month Blewett had 49 points against Silver Grove, breaking Justice's single-game record of 44. Justice went on to become a major league baseball star.
■ Eriel McKee has supplanted her cousin Santana McKee as Anderson County's all-time leading girls' scorer. Eriel, a junior, has 1,651 points and has a chance to break C.J. Penny's overall school record of 2,101, set in 2009.
■ Lexington Christian's Central Bank Basketball Classic will be a Lexington Catholic reunion of sorts. The teams include Lafayette and Windermere Prep from Florida. Former Lexington Catholic coach Danny Haney is vice president of athletics for Windermere's management company. Windermere Coach Ben Wilson is a former Knights player. Lafayette coach Mike Mendenhall III played at Lexington Catholic, as did Generals assistant Shawn Fields and strength coach Tyler Corvin. Mendenhall's dad, Mike, was a longtime Knights assistant before joining his son's staff this season. LCA Coach Brad Carter and assistant Demetrius Green played at Lexington Catholic, and LCA assistant Tommy Huston was a longtime Knights assistant.
Friday's games: Windermere (Fla.) Prep vs. West Jessamine at 6:30, followed by LCA vs. Lafayette. Saturday's games: Lafayette vs. Eastern at 7, followed by LCA vs. Windermere Prep. CWKYT is televising Saturday's games.
■ The KHSAA announced game times for the Boys' Sweet Sixteen semifinals and finals in Rupp Arena. After UK hosts Florida at noon on Saturday, March 9, the state tournament semifinals will start at 7:30 that night. The championship game will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10.
■ Former Tates Creek baseball and basketball star Ryan Fucci is switching sports in college. Fucci signed to play baseball at WKU, but he sat out his freshman season (2011-12) recovering from labrum surgery. Last fall he said he realized he was "playing the wrong sport" and wasn't ready to give up basketball. "I was going to follow my heart," he said. That led him to visit Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla. He committed to play basketball for the junior college next season. "It's a great opportunity," Fucci said. "I'll play there, work hard and keep following my dream to eventually play basketball at a a Division I school."
■ The sixth annual National Guard Border Bowl all-star football game between Kentucky and Tennessee is Saturday at noon at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg. The Kentucky stars will be coached by Tom Larkey of Harlan County. Five Lexington players are on the roster: Andrew Pendleton of Henry Clay, Anthony Kersey and Trey Mattingly of Lexington Catholic, and Justin Carr and Tranard Chester of Lafayette.
■ Leon Hart, who won 78 games in 10 years as Ashland Blazer football coach, is retiring. Before taking over the Tomcats, Hart was an assistant at Eastern Kentucky University under Roy Kidd for 20 years and was part of the Colonels' two national championship teams.
■ Madison Southern's Damien Harris, who ran for 1,911 yards and 37 touchdowns last fall, was named to the MaxPreps sophomore All-American football team.
■ J.T. Taylor, assigning secretary for 10th and 11th region fast-pitch softball, is looking for new umpires. A meeting will be held at Bourbon County on Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. Contact Taylor at (859) 707-6507 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
■ Frank Welch, an educator and school administrator in Pike County for 50 years, and a longtime member of the KHSAA Board of Control, died this week. He was 78.