Warren Central vs. Eastern
1:30 p.m. Wednesday
Winner plays Game 1 winner at noon Friday
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WARREN CENTRAL DRAGONS
Region: 4 | Record: 26-7 | Enrollment: 1,130
Tim Riley (306-126, 14 years) has Warren Central here for the 8th time in 10 years. They won the title in 2004 and were runners-up in '05. Riley was an assistant on Holmes' 1990 state runner-up team.
Jordan Shanklin5-11 Sr. 16.2 ppg
Donovan Halsel6-0 Jr. 5.6 ppg
George Fant6-7 Sr. 21.5 ppg
Vic Smith6-1 Sr. 8.1 ppg
Cortez Barber5-10 Sr. 6.1 ppg
This might be the most athletic team Warren Central has had in the Sweet Sixteen. Western Kentucky signee Fant is a beast inside (11.2 rebounds, 73 blocked shots). IUPUI signee Shanklin is a terrific point guard (3.7 assists per game). Barber was All-State in football. Halsel is a high-jump state champ. Smith (a transfer who played for Bowling Green in the 2009 tournament) is an all-around athlete. The Dragons' toughness is unquestioned. They beat Bowling Green in four overtimes in the district finals and rallied from seven points down in the last 90 seconds to beat the Purples in the region finals.
When Chane Behanan moved from Cincinnati and enrolled at Bowling Green two years ago, Riley called it a "nightmare." Behanan gave the Purples a McDonald's All-American and made them a state powerhouse. But Warren Central found a way to beat Bowling Green in the region finals the last two years. "To hold serve against Behanan and the kind of team Bowling Green has had is unbelievable," Riley said.
Player to watch
Before the season, Riley said a key to Warren Central's success would be George Fant staying on the floor and out of foul trouble. He's done that. The WKU signee is averaging a strong double-double and making plays all over the court. "He's become a very good defender. He rebounds out of his area. He handles the ball, is one of our better passers and probably our best three-point shooter. He can get points off the dribble, and he's good at trailing plays and knocking down shots." Riley said.
Warren Central has become a fixture in the state tournament. It's made it to Rupp Arena eight times in the past 10 years. This is the Dragons' 12th appearance overall.
Region: 7 | Record: 31-2 | Enrollment: 2,300
Jason Couch has a 184-71 record in eight years with the Eagles, including two region titles. He also got to Rupp Arena as an assistant at Greenwood in 1995.
Remy Abell6-4 Sr. 16.4 ppg
Byron Sanford5-11 Sr. 7.9 ppg
Kameron Woods6-8 Sr. 7.9 ppg
Lyonell Gaines6-6 Sr. 16.1 ppg
Arman Marks6-4 Sr. 8.8 ppg
The Eagles have it all, led by four Division I players — Abell (Bradley), Gaines (IUPUI), Marks (James Madison) and Woods (Butler). Eastern is also long, athletic, deep and experienced — terrific on defense and on the boards. Abell and Gaines are the go-to guys. Woods had 14 rebounds in the region semifinals against Ballard and 16 points in the finals against Jeffersontown. Sanford is overlooked as a solid point guard. Jon Davis, Percy Blade, Tyrell Corlew and Chris Taylor are solid off the bench. Eastern can win with any style, an adaptability that comes from its players having been together for four years. Five of their top six players saw lots of action in the 2009 Sweet Sixteen.
Eastern has navigated a brutal schedule with only two losses. It beat No. 2 Ballard three times and pre-season No. 1 Jeffersontown three times. It whipped Bullitt East twice and Bowling Green by 29. Four wins in Rupp Arena this week would give Eastern a 35-2 record, the same as the Eagles' 1997 state championship team.
Player to watch
Eastern Coach Jason Couch touts Remy Abell as a Mr. Basketball candidate. "If Remy was on some other teams, he'd average 30 points, but he doesn't have to do that for us," Couch said. "He's as complete a player as you'll ever see." Abell can score off the dribble, attack the rim or hit from the outside. He's a tenacious defender, too. Couch said Abell's best attribute is being a great teammate. "Early in games, he makes sure to get everybody involved. If he needs to take over in the second half, he'll do that. He's relished that role and embraced it."
Eastern is here for the second time in three years and seventh time overall. The Eagles won the title in 1997 and were runners-up in 1957.