West Jessamine Colts
Region: 12th Record: 26-7 Enrollment: 1,040
Damon Kelley is in his first year with the Colts after seven seasons at Lafayette. He led the Generals to the 2004 Sweet Sixteen, and was an assistant on the 2001 state championship team. He has an overall record of 116-115.
West Jessamine starters
Jarrod Polson 6-3 sr. 17.6 ppg
Gus Sherrow 6-2 sr 11.6 ppg
David Elliott 6-2 sr. 9.9 ppg
Kyle Mefford 5-9 sr. 7.8 ppg
Dylan Pohl 6-4 jr. 7.3 ppg
West Jessamine got off to a slow start under its new coach, but finally started clicking in mid-January. "That's when the kids really started buying into defense," Kelley said. "Since then our man-to-man has been outstanding, and it's allowed us to win when we have an off night offensively." Polson isn't the only steady contributor. Sherrow and Mefford are good three-point shooters (they've made 120 between them). Elliott is the emotional leader and blue-collar hustler. Pohl brings rebounding (5.5) and is a capable scorer. Keston Bartholomew is a catalyst off the bench as a defender and passer.
Player to watch
Polson took over the region tournament, scoring 88 points in three games (more than half his team's total), including 8-for-10 three-point shooting. "I told some people, I don't know if Jarrod is the best player in the state," Kelley said. "but I do know I wouldn't trade him for any player in the state. He's a coach's dream." Polson, who has an offer from Georgetown College, averages 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds, and is hitting 76 percent of his free throws. "His biggest strength and biggest weakness is his unselfishness," Kelley said.
A couple of days before last year's Sweet Sixteen tipped off, Kelley was fired as Lafayette's coach. He attended the state tournament "not knowing if or where" he'd be coaching this season. A year later, Kelley has led West Jessamine back to Rupp Arena. "It's almost an impossible-to-dream scenario," he said.
After making their first Sweet Sixteen appearance last March, and advancing to the semifinals, the Colts returned to the 12th Region winner's circle this year.
Muhlenberg County Mustangs
Region: 3rd Record: 20-10 Enrollment: 1,400
Reggie Warford was coaching high school ball in Pittsburgh before returning home to run the new program born last summer from the consolidation of Muhlenberg North and Muhlenberg South. Warford starred at Drakesboro High in Muhlenberg County before going on to play at UK. He also has coached on the college level as an assistant.
Josh Hawkins 5-9 sr. 7.6 ppg
Grant Warford 6-4 sr. 8.5 ppg
Tiger Warford 6-1 so. 7.6 ppg
Joe Gabbard 6-4 sr. 19.9 ppg
Lemon Gregory 6-8 so. 5.0 ppg
The Mustangs' lead horse is Gabbard, but he's got a lot of guys behind him. This is a deep team that has size, especially in the mammoth Gregory and the burly Grant Warford, and athleticism. Hawkins and Tiger Warford are solid on the perimeter. Michael Civils averages 11 points off the bench. Jake Griffin, Colby Joe Carver, Carlton Mason, Brent Harris and Josh Coleman add to the depth.
Player to watch
Warford can't believe that Division I colleges aren't chasing Gabbard. "He's a competitive kid who's averaged 20 points and eight rebounds playing one of the toughest schedules in the state," Warford said. Gabbard, a 3.7 student, is a shooting guard who also has the skills to play the point. Warford thinks Gabbard has been overlooked because he didn't play the AAU travel circuit.
Warford's UK playing career ended just before Rupp opened, so he's excited about finally getting to compete in the arena and thrilled for his players. "Everybody in Kentucky can appreciate the prestige of the Sweet Sixteen. No other state has anything like it. It's the pinnacle of what you can do as a player and coach," he said.
Muhlenberg County is a first-year school. Its predecessors have a rich basketball tradition. Muhlenberg North made four state tournament appearances between 1994 and 2000. Before consolidation in 1990, the county had seven schools, including Central City, which played in the Sweet Sixteen 17 times.