For the first time in almost a century, a new state basketball trophy will call Paris High School home.
The Greyhounds overcame an early deficit and eventually led by 22 points on its way to a 66-48 victory over Newport Central Catholic on Sunday in the finals of the boys’ All “A” Classic at the Frankfort Convention Center. It was Paris’ first appearance in the finals.
Eric Johnson had a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds for the Greyhounds, who defeated four schools with larger enrollments and three private schools en route to the school’s first basketball state title since the girls’ program won the first KHSAA state title in 1920.
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“You know, we tell ’em hard work pays off,” Paris Coach Terence Brooks said. “Today it paid off.”
Jekobi Wells, a senior, was named MVP of the tournament. He had 15 points in the finals and finished with a tournament-best 78 points. Johnson was second with 69 points over the four games.
“This is one of the best feelings in the world,” Wells said. “I know we had a lot of doubters, and when we came out the way we did, they (weren’t) expecting that.”
Newport Central Catholic scored six of the game’s first eight points before Paris took a 9-6 lead on a Marcus Ashford three-pointer with 4:19 left in the first quarter. The Greyhounds never looked back, ending the opening period on a 16-2 run and eventually building a 40-18 lead after a Wells bucket with 2:24 remaining in the half.
The Thoroughbreds, playing in their fourth title game in five years, chipped into the Paris advantage in the third quarter and pulled to within 10 points on a Luke Moeves three-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth. But Paris ended the game on a 15-7 run.
Paris ended with 16 points off 17 NewCath turnovers; NewCath scored three points off seven Paris miscues. The Greyhounds scored 72 points off 67 turnovers by their opponents during the tournament.
“This group of kids is fun to coach. They work hard,” Brooks said. “Today’s kids, they’re not really big on playing defense, but these kids committed to playing defense. They listen to us, they believe in us. We want our defense to lead our offense, and a lot of times it does.”
Eugene “Puck” Puckett, Paris’ scorekeeper who’s helped out at Paris since he was a student manager 41 years ago, said he’d never seen a Paris team put together a half like the one it managed Sunday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a half so dominating as that,” Puckett said. “We were just talking about last night, if everybody on this team clicks at the same time, how dangerous we can be. And that first half definitely proved that.”
Paris hasn’t reached the boys’ Sweet Sixteen since 1970. The next mission for this group — which boasts seven seniors who have played together since sixth grade — is to end that drought.
“It’s a big momentum boost,” Wells said. “We came up here knowing that we could do this, but the fact that we got it done makes it even better. When we go back into the district and the region, we’ve got this on our shoulders and we know we can do it.”