Former Mr. Basketball Darius Miller and his University of Kentucky teammates had an admirer in President Barack Obama earlier this year. Reigning Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice has an admirer in politics, too.
Justice and his Kentucky All-Stars teammates traveled to the state Capitol on Tuesday to meet with Gov. Steve Beshear, who wished the team good luck ahead of Friday's opening game in the Kentucky/Indiana All-Stars Basketball Classic.
"I think that as we try to build this (series) back to the notoriety it had 25 years ago or so, (it takes) people like the governor, taking their time and visiting with these kids and letting them know that they're important enough for him to take time out of his busy schedule to visit with them," Kentucky Coach Mike Listerman said. "A meeting with him only adds to what we're trying to do."
What Listerman is trying to do is end the recent dominance Indiana has had over Kentucky in this annual competition. Listerman hopes his floor general, Justice, can help reverse the All-Stars' fortunes, as Kentucky has dropped nine of the past 10 games against Indiana.
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Justice, who was actually meeting the governor for a second time — the first coming after he won a state title with Shelby Valley in March — seemed like the natural fit for leader of the team.
"(Beshear) remembered me, he'd heard that I won Mr. Basketball and everything," Justice, a Louisville signee, said.
However, the pomp and circumstance of meeting the governor was only one reason the All-Stars were in Frankfort. The other was a tuneup game against the Kentucky Junior All-Stars as part of preparations for this weekend.
Following the scrimmage, which the Senior All-Stars won, 90-89, on a last-second shot, Listerman said team effort would be the key to victory over Indiana.
"We're not a team that's going to overpower you, but we've got some very good shooters and some great passers," Listerman said. "Justice is the leader, but everybody has to contribute."
Dictating a rhythm for a team that was selected in April and only began practicing daily June 4 hasn't been easy.
"It is a little bit (difficult)," Justice said of trying to find team chemistry in a short period of time. "I'm just trying to get everyone involved ... just trying to get everyone touches and still getting a feel for how everyone plays."
The players are not entirely unknown to one another.
The All-Stars feature three pairs of teammates: Louisville Trinity's Taylor Epley and Josh Sewell, Holmes' Ricardo Johnson and Elijah Pittman, and Shelby Valley's Justice and Ashley Hatfield.
"Me and Ashley, we've played together forever, so especially when me and him are in the game at the same time, that's big for both of us," Justice said. "We know each other so well and how we play, and I think it helps a lot."
Although Justice will be a steadying influence in the backcourt, a team effort will, perhaps, be most needed in the paint against Indiana. As has often been the case in this series, the Kentucky team is undersized with eight Indiana players 6-foot-6 or taller, compared to Kentucky's five.
"I've just got to play my game, and we've got other big men, other forwards who'll help each other out," said Lexington Catholic's Tanner Peurach, Kentucky's tallest player at 6-8. "We just need to go out and work together."