Fans in attendance for Scott County’s 79-63 win at Lexington Christian on Thursday night got to witness two of the best young players the state has to offer.
Michael Moreno and Kyle Rode, Kentucky’s top-ranked sophomores who currently are rated among the top 150 players nationally by Coast2CoastPreps.com, faced off in a potential 11th Region Tournament preview. The game produced such an atmosphere for 2 1/2 quarters before Scott County pulled away and sustained a comfortable advantage over the final eight minutes.
The teams do not have another regular-season meeting scheduled. Rode, an All-City second-teamer as a freshman at Lexington Christian last season, spoke confidently about the Eagles getting another shot at the Cardinals, who improved to 4-0.
“We’ll see ’em again. It was a great learning experience early in the season,” Rode said. “I like our team.”
Those were bold words considering LCA’s boys have never advanced past the district round. Juniors Carter Hendrickson and Austin Hall, sophomore Isaiah Hunt and a pair of transfers who led their respective teams in scoring last season — Chandler Stewart (Woodford County) and Nathan Harper (East Jessamine) — give the Eagles tangible reasons to suggest a deep run could be in the cards this season.
Having a 6-foot-5 small forward like Rode, who can run point and is constantly working to improve his jump shot, certainly helps, too. He’s nailed the leadership aspect that comes with being a team’s best player.
“The game was on me, I just gotta hit shots,” Rode said after a 4-for-14 effort against Scott County. “My teammates played great, they did everything they could. We just gotta move forward.”
Moreno, whose 32-point, 17-rebound night propelled Scott County to its third straight win to begin the season, has recorded a double-double in all three games ahead of the Cardinals’ matchup with Knott County Central at Breathitt County on Saturday.
Rode and Moreno are pals off the court. They play on the same AAU team — Indiana Elite — and size up similarly. That means a lot of one-on-one time over the summer.
Moreno, too, speaks with a maturity beyond his years.
“Kyle’s a smart kid,” Moreno said of going up against his buddy. “Normally when I go play travel ball I don’t find too many kids who can outsmart me or something like that. Kyle’s that kid.”
Rode enjoys playing against Moreno during the high school season. It brings out a little extra in both of them, he said, but isn’t a focus for either.
“I think me and him are both to the point where it’s about our teams trying to win the game,” Rode said. “I think that goes a bit to the side, but obviously everybody else is gonna talk about it.”
Should both of them continue to grow into the high-major players they’re projected to become — Rode’s unofficial visits have included Indiana and Notre Dame while Moreno already boasts an offer from Bradley — their matchups will continue to have people talking for the foreseeable future.
Moreno’s Cardinals figure to be an attraction regardless of opponent this season. They went 29-6 last season, falling to Paul Laurence Dunbar in the 11th Region finals. Three of their top four scorers are sophomores, meaning opponents’ trips to Georgetown are going to be a pain for some time.
There’s time to wait for them to mature into title contenders, too, but Moreno quickly dismissed that notion.
“Being sophomore-heavy, we know that we have time down the road to figure this out,” Moreno said. “But we don’t want to wait that long. We want to do it now.”