How ironic is it that so many firsts and potential firsts surround the KHSAA’s 100th edition of the boys’ basketball state tournament?
There’s Cooper, Fern Creek and Harlan County, which joined the 300-plus other fortunate programs that have played in the tournament after punching their first tickets in the regional round.
You have first-year coach Steve Fromeyer, who guided Scott High School to an unlikely title in the 10th Region. There’s Elisha Justice, taking Pikeville to Rupp for the first time in 18 years in his first season at the school.
In addition to Fromeyer and Justice, how about the eight other men — John Fraley, Josh Frick, Shannon Hoskins, Michael Jones, Tim Sullivan, James Schooler, Maze Stallworth and Jason Tripure — who will plop down in the head coaches’ seat for the first time in Rupp Arena this week? Or the seven officials — Benny Campbell, John Edelen, Raymond Lightfoot, Tony Pompilio, Tony Ramsey, Tim Trent and Scott Vaughn — who will work their first Sweet Sixteen?
Seven of the last eight state tournaments have crowned first-time champions, and the 100th could add to that run as three-fourths of the field would qualify for that distinction.
The centennial edition is not without some blue bloods to which casual fans can cling or direct boos, though. Old standbys like Ballard and Scott County, who’ve combined for five state titles, could by themselves share nearly as many war stories as the rest of the field combined. But heck, many players on the 16 teams weren’t even born the last time Ballard won a championship (1999).
One-time champs Hopkinsville (1985) and Pulaski County (1986) have tasted the commonwealth’s sweetest victory, but either winning would feel like the first time given the 30-plus year gap between their breakthroughs and now.
A Perry County Central title would be the first claimed by a 14th Region school in many people’s lives; Carr Creek’s memorable trek to the 1956 title was the last by a program out of the region.
Graves County and Elliott County could end epic droughts for their respective ends of the state in their quest for their first titles. The 1st Region’s last titlist came in 1959 (North Marshall) while the 16th Region produced its last champ in 1961 (Ashland).
Plenty of players will make their first ever shot inside of Rupp Arena on just the opening day alone. At least one or two coaches might break their first clipboard in the venue over the course of the tournament, too.
Some people will make the first trip they’ve ever taken to Lexington. Others will be here for the 20th straight year but discover a first-time destination between sessions of their favorite sporting event.
The thing is, regardless of whichever Sweet Sixteen you’re talking about, aren’t firsts always abundant?
Every team was a first-time participant when Lexington High won the inaugural tournament in 1918, but each of the last three fields has featured at least one program making its debut.
Coaches take their first state-tournament timeouts nearly every season.
A head count on the number of players to take their first shots at state has to number in the thousands, and will only grow as new ones join the club year after year after year.
Our single-class state tournament isn’t great just because it crowns one champion from the whole lot; it is a shared, centralized experience in a state that sometimes feels like four. A first trip to Lexington is still a first trip to Lexington whether you’re a fan coming all the way from Hickman or Elkhorn City.
There’s little irony in the 100th Sweet Sixteen generating so many firsts, because to suggest so would be to suggest that every other tournament hasn’t produced an ample amount for participants and fans. In that way, the 100th boys’ Sweet Sixteen will be no different from the previous 99.
And that’s why it’ll rock.
Dave Cantrall’s Sweet Sixteen ratings
1. Scott County (30-5): 89.1
2. Bowling Green (32-2): 85.7
3. Ballard (28-6): 84.9
4. Fern Creek (33-2): 84.3
5. Cooper (28-4): 83.1
6. Hopkinsville (28-6): 79.4
7. Pulaski Co. (27-7): 77.8
8. Perry County Central (27-7): 77.0
9. Graves Co. (27-7): 76.4
10. Scott (21-12): 69.7
11. Elliott Co. (26-3): 69.4
12. Harlan Co. (31-3): 68.0
13. Pikeville (23-8): 67.0
14. Taylor Co. (20-14) 66.6
15. Collins (23-12): 66.2
16. Meade Co. (13-21): 58.3