Clark County boys' basketball coach Scott Humphrey clearly remembers the night he decided to give Robbie Stenzel his first varsity start.
It was early January, 2007. Clark County was on the road at North Laurel. Stenzel was an eighth-grader who had already seen some action for the Cardinals, but Humphrey had resisted putting him in the starting lineup.
"You never know how it'll affect a young kid," Humphrey recalled. "You don't want it to backfire where you hurt his confidence if things don't go well. We were anticipating a rocky night for Robbie."
So what happened?
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"He had 16 points at the half," Humphrey said with a laugh. "I guess it showed my ignorance that it took me half a season to start him,"
Two months later, Humphrey saw just how special a player he had in Stenzel.
In the 10th Region semifinals at Mason County, Clark County trailed Scott 52-51 with less than 30 seconds left. Cards stars Preston Knowles and Tristan Jones had fouled out.
During a timeout, Humphrey drew up a play for Stenzel. The 6-foot-1 eighth-grader was to take the ball, attack the rim and either score or get fouled.
Stenzel remembers his reaction in the huddle: "I was shocked coach had the confidence in me."
As the timeout ended, Humphrey had a flash of panic: "I realized I was putting our whole season on an eighth-grader. I was thinking what an idiot I was."
Not for long.
Stenzel drove hard to the basket, got fouled with 14 seconds left and made both free throws. Scott missed a final shot, and Clark County was a step closer to reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1990.
"Looking back, I wonder how in the world did I do that," Stenzel said.
It's only fitting Stenzel, now a senior, gets to finish his high school career in Rupp Arena, on the court where he turned heads as an eighth-grader.
Clark County will play Oldham County in the opening game of the state tournament Wednesday at noon.
The Cards, rated one of the favorites, have a veteran team that includes seniors Vinny Zollo, Corey Rogers, Jaylen Daniel and Travis Purvis, and junior Alan "Bopper" Stenzel, Robbie's brother.
In some ways Robbie Stenzel is a completely different player than he was in 2007.
He's 3 inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier. He's physically tougher. He's a veteran of more than 150 varsity games. He's the Cards' all-time leading scorer with more than 2,000 points.
But he's still the same cool and collected player he was as a middle schooler.
"He's always been so poised that nothing ever rattled him," Humphrey said.
Jay Stenzel, Robbie's father who was a basketball star at Lloyd and Berea College, said his son has always been that way.
"Robbie's got a special thing about him. He doesn't have highs and he doesn't have lows. He's been like that ever since I can remember.
"He's never showed one extreme or another."
Any fears Humphrey had that Stenzel might let early success spoil him were allayed years ago.
"Robbie's probably the most unassuming good player I've ever coached," Humphrey said. "His character and demeanor are such that I never thought he'd let anything go to his head.
"He's very humble, very laid back. That's just him. He's a great kid who takes care of business off the court, too."
On the court, Stenzel's best asset has always been his offensive skills, and the main reason EKU signed him last fall.
"Scoring comes easy for Robbie," Humphrey said. "He's always been an offensive talent, so skilled and smooth.
"It doesn't matter what level you play on, everybody's looking for somebody to score. I think he'll be able to do that in the OVC. I think he'll be able to step in and give (EKU) that dimension right off the bat."
But college hoops are the farthest thing from Stenzel's mind at the moment.
The Sweet Sixteen beckons.
After making it to the state tournament in 2007, Stenzel figured he'd get back there at least a couple more times with Clark County.
"I think that's what got us beat a few times, looking ahead," he said.
Mason County ruled the region three consecutive years, ending the Cards' season each time.
This year Clark County wasn't going to be denied.
"We played with more urgency this season. That's what did it," Stenzel said. "It seems like it's been a really long time coming again, but all that matters is we get to finish things off in Rupp Arena."