A big race will be decided this spring in Kentucky. Thousands will keep tabs on what the winner has accomplished leading up to the climax, after which he will be showered with adoration from his faithful supporters.
Of course, I’m talking about the race for Mr. Basketball (what else?). Come February a minimum of 16 names (the players or co-players of the year in each region) will be submitted to the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation and put to a vote of coaches, members of the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches and members of the media. That winner, along with the Miss Basketball selection, will be announced during a banquet on March 14.
With the regular season halfway complete, let’s try handicapping the field.
Taveion Hollingsworth, Paul Laurence Dunbar (11th Region)
His case: Hollingsworth is the only potential nominee with a Sweet Sixteen MVP under his belt, an honor given after he led Dunbar to its first state title last season (defeating four top-10 teams over their final six games to do so). He likely will finish his career as Dunbar’s leading scorer and has a shot at passing Bryan Station’s Michael Allen for the all-time scoring mark in Fayette County history. The reigning Lexington Player of the Year signed with Western Kentucky University in the fall.
The stakes: Lexington hasn’t produced a Mr. Basketball winner since 1984, six years before Dunbar opened. Steve Miller of Henry Clay — who also went on to play at WKU — took home the honor that season. Hollingsworth would give the 11th Region its first winner since Dominique Hawkins (Madison Central) in 2013.
Potential pitfalls: It’s possible petty voters upset he didn’t hold out for a late offer from UK or Louisville spurn him for it. Voters against awarding players from the big cities could raise money on GoFundMe.com to help employ Russian hackers.
Cole VonHandorf, Covington Catholic (9th Region)
His case: Has been named to two Sweet Sixteen All-Tournament teams (2014 and 2015) and was named to All-State teams as a sophomore and junior. The Fairmont State commit was the second-leading scorer on CovCath’s state title team in 2014.
The stakes: A VonHandorf win would give the 9th Region its first Mr. Basketball since 2003, when Highlands’ Ross Neltner won. Covington Catholic has never produced a Mr. Basketball.
Potential pitfalls: Playing for a private school has never helped an individual’s candidacy. Voters could decide his name’s too difficult to spell and write-in fellow 9th Region contender Sean McNeil instead.
Terry Taylor, Bowling Green (4th Region)
His case: Has been named to two Sweet Sixteen All-Tournament teams and the only contender to have played on three state tournament teams. The Austin Peay signee is averaging 21.6 points and 10.9 rebounds for the Purples, who look poised for another Sweet Sixteen trip.
The stakes: Bowling Green’s Josh Carrier won the award in 2001, the only Purple to do so. The last winner from the 4th Region came via Glasgow the following year when Brandon Stockton won.
Potential pitfalls: If you buy into the false narrative that Western Kentucky is overlooked when it comes to Mr. Basketball consideration — four of the 16 winners this century and 14 of the 64 winners overall have come from Regions 1 through 4 — then there’s that. Franklin-Simpson star Tavin Lovan or Russellville standout Pedro Bradshaw could end up on the ballot alongside, or in place of, Taylor.
Timmy Dalton, Lawrence County (15th Region)
His case: Lawrence County’s all-time leading scorer averaged 22.7 points and 7.8 rebounds as a junior to lead Lawrence County to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history, where it fell to eventual state runner-up Doss in 2016. Currently leading the nation in scoring at 37.9 points per game among players with stats entered on MaxPreps.com. Interest from Division I programs starting to pick up.
The stakes: Lawrence County has never had a Mr. Basketball candidate before. Elisha Justice, now the head coach at Pikeville, was the last 15th Region player to win the award, but did so after leading Shelby Valley to a state title (when the award was given after the Sweet Sixteen concluded).
Potential pitfalls: Lawrence County’s super-young team — nine of its 15 players are sophomores or younger and its second-leading scorer is an eighth-grader — has not fared well against stronger opponents this season. Worse, two of its losses were to fellow 15th Region contender Johnson Central, who it will play at least one more time in the regular season and could field its own Mr. Basketball candidate in Mason Blair.
Whoever represents the 7th Region
Their cases: This is likely to be either Jacob King of Trinity or Jamil Wilson of Ballard. King led Trinity in scoring (14.2 points) when it reached the Sweet Sixteen last season. Wilson played on Ballard’s Sweet Sixteen quarterfinalist team in 2015. King was named an All-State honorable mention by the Courier-Journal in 2016; Wilson was named an All-State honorable mention by the Herald-Leader and Courier-Journal last year. As happened last season in the 5th Region and 11th Region, both players could be named to the ballot.
The stakes: King, a Campbellsville signee, would be Trinity’s second Mr. Basketball selection in five seasons (Nathan Dieudonne, 2012) while Wilson would be Ballard’s fourth overall (Jeff Lamp in 1977, Allan Houston in 1989 and Quentin Snider in 2014).
Potential pitfalls: While popular wisdom suggests voters don’t want to vote for Louisvillians, the city has produced 26.5 percent of the previous winners. A combination of stronger résumés around the state and a possible splitting of the vote within the city make this a tough bet — especially since Kentucky Country Day’s Anthony Mathis (25.6 points per game on nearly 50 percent shooting) could end up showing up in this spot when all is said and done.
Peyton Broughton, North Laurel (13th Region): Eastern Kentucky signee owns the state’s highest-scoring game this season with 67 points, is averaging 33.2 points for the Jaguars and is the leading scorer in Laurel County history.
Jaylen Sebree, Christian County (2nd Region): Coastal Carolina commit is averaging 17.4 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Colonels, who showed well in the King of the Bluegrass and will be in contention for a repeat bid to state.
Chance Moore, Fern Creek (6th Region): Averaging about 20 points for the Tigers, whose only loss so far was a three-point decision against Trinity in the King of the Bluegrass.
Tony Jackson, North Hardin (5th Region): Another Coastal Carolina-bound senior who has led the Trojans to back-to-back 5th Region semifinals appearances.
Chris Vogt, Graves County (1st Region): Defense-first big man has signed with Northern Kentucky and could break his own state record for blocks in a single season.
Jacoby Harris, Owensboro: Started for the Red Devils’ 2015 state title team and is Owensboro’s leading scorer this season at 14.7 points per game.
Torell Carter, Letcher County Central (14th Region): Was an All-State honorable mention last season and is averaging 25.3 points and 6.2 rebounds this season.
Peyton Gover, Southwestern (12th Region): Scoring 30 points a night for the Warriors, whose only loss was to cross-town rival Pulaski County.
Joe Griffin, South Oldham (8th Region): Leading scorer for the Dragons, who made their first Sweet Sixteen last season and are off to another hot start.
Chase Porter, Elliott County (16th Region): Has been a top scorer for back-to-back Sweet Sixteen teams from Sandy Hook.
Mr. Basketball winners
Billy Ray Lickert
Jimmy Dan Conner
Anthony Hickey Jr.
Knott County Central