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James Schooler is 89-39 in four seasons at Fern Creek. Before that, he was an assistant coach in the Louisville area for 11 seasons, the last two at Ballard, where he was part of the staff that led the Bruins to the state title game against Madison Central in 2013.
5) Anthony Wales, 6-0, Jr., 14.3 ppg
10) Ahmad Price, 6-3, Jr., 11.5 ppg
12) Daiquan Jones, 6-7, Sr., 5.2 ppg
22) Chance Moore, 6-7, Sr., 16.0 ppg
23) Tony Rogers, 6-3, Jr., 9.0 ppg
How they got here
Coming off a 19-13 record last season, Schooler said he started getting excited about this team on June 1. “The first day of summer league ball, we knew we had something special.” The Tigers were the region favorites heading into the season and earned early victories over Ballard, Christian County, Doss and Trinity — then beat Ballard and Trinity a second time each on the same day to win the Louisville Invitational Tournament — and they’re bringing a 19-game winning streak to Rupp Arena this weekend. Fern Creek defeated Doss — last year’s state tournament runner-up — to win the 6th Region title.
Four years after hiring Schooler to take over a team that had finished 6-26 the previous season, Fern Creek — a school that opened over 90 years ago — is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time. About 15 years ago, Schooler quit his job as a personal banker — “making pretty good money,” he added — to fully pursue his dream of being a basketball coach. After paying his dues as an assistant for more than a decade, he got his first head coaching job with the Tigers. Both coach and school have been happy these past few days. “It’s been just kind of crazy, obviously,” Schooler said. “A lot of excitement, a lot of buzz. Phone calls, ticket sales. It’s truly been March Madness.”
Player to watch
Chance Moore is the Tigers’ leading scorer (16.0 points) and second-leading rebounder (4.9 boards), and he can hurt opponents in a number of ways. The 6-7 senior has guard skills and often plays on the perimeter — where he’s a 38 percent three-point shooter — though he has the size to score inside, too. He’s also a long, athletic defender. “He’s an electric style of player,” Schooler said. “He allows us to put a mismatch on the floor every night.”
This is Fern Creek’s first trip to the Sweet Sixteen. The school opened in 1923.
Tim Haworth, 187-43 in seven seasons, has the Tigers in Rupp for the fifth time in the past six seasons. He played at Murray State and was an assistant there.
2) Stephen Cager, 5-7, Jr., 15.9 ppg
10) Jalen Johnson, 6-1, Jr., 17.7 ppg
12) James Nicholas, 6-4, So., 6.5 ppg
20) C.J. Henagan, 6-4, Sr., 10.5 ppg
32) Tefrell Toliver, 6-4, So., 4.8 ppg
How they got here
“This is the best shooting team I’ve ever had,” Haworth said of this Hoptown squad. The fast-paced Tigers are always fun to watch, and this bunch has three players who have made at least 60 three-pointers on the season: Stephen “Shorty” Cager, Brandon Govan and Jalen Johnson. Hoptown beat rival Christian County by 19 points in late January before losing to the Colonels by 39 points two weeks later. Haworth said the latter game was the worst the Tigers had played in his seven seasons as coach. “We played terrible. We really did. But we learned a lot from that game.” Hoptown rebounded to beat Christian County 62-61 for the district title, then defeated the Colonels one more time, 74-57 in the region finals.
Throw it out
Hopkinsville’s opponent Thursday afternoon, Fern Creek, is on a 19-game winning streak. The last team to beat them? That would be Hopkinsville, which managed a 78-58 rout of the Tigers on Jan. 7. “I don’t think it matters,” Haworth said. “Nobody in the state was going to beat us that night. They just weren’t. We were playing that good, and Fern Creek probably wasn’t playing that well that night. So you can throw that out the window.”
Player to watch
Shorty Cager isn’t afraid to do a little talking on the basketball court, and the 5-7 guard has a big game to back it up. He averages 15.9 points per game and shoots 44 percent from long range, but it’s his sheer energy that makes these Tigers go. “He’s so competitive,” Haworth said. “He wants to win every single drill, every game. What separates him is he’s not scared of anybody. He’s never scared.” Example: Hoptown scheduled a game against nationally ranked Findlay Prep (Nev.) a few days before the postseason began. During that contest, Kentucky signee PJ Washington — Findlay’s 6-8 star player — got a little tired of the jawing coming from Cager’s direction. “Are you D-1,” Washington asked sarcastically. Shorty’s reply: “Come over here and check me and find out.”
This is Hoptown’s eighth Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers won the state title in 1985.
Fern Creek vs. Hopkinsville
What: First round of boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament
Where: Rupp Arena
When: Noon Thursday