Brandon Hatton doesn't look like a guy who had back surgery in September. The Dixie Heights senior has been a scoring machine in the Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic this week.
Hatton, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, had 34 points, including making 17 of 18 free throws, in the Colonels' win over Henderson County on Thursday.
He poured in 35 points, including 16 of 18 free throws, to lead Dixie Heights past Male 56-46 on Friday.
"He could roll out of bed and score 20," Colonels Coach Ken Chevalier said. "Brandon's a gifted player."
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Hatton, who has signed with Vermont, is closing in on 2,600 career points.
He averaged 23 points a game last season while playing through the pain of a herniated disk.
"What hurt me was moving around," he said, understating the fact that basketball is a game of constant movement.
So he quit playing in early July, had surgery in September, and returned to the court in late October.
Hatton picked up some weight during his off time, and he said he's been working hard to get back to his playing shape of 200 pounds.
"Early in the season I got so tired so fast, but I'm getting my wind back now. My game's starting to come back around, too."
Hatton's offensive skills were on full display against Male. He hit five of seven three-pointers, and he was a beast attacking the rim where he either finished or got fouled.
"I feel confident that if people get up (on) me, I can go to the basket," he said. "Or I can pull up and shoot the three. But I like to get to the line, too. I shoot well there, and I get a rest, catch my breath and get two shots."
Male Coach Larry Miller conceded that Hatton was difficult to contain.
"He's very hard to guard because he has great pace and flow to his game," Miller said. "He's never in a hurry.
"He has tremendous shot fakes, and he's really good going to his left hand. If you double him, he's a good passer. He moves at the ball well, and he uses screens well.
"He's just a tough player and a tough kid."
Hatton opened the second half by scoring 11 points in a row to rally his team from a 23-21 halftime deficit.
Male never caught up. The Bulldogs were led by Peter Scott's 16 points, and Will Parker's 10 points and nine rebounds.
Chevalier loved the way his Colonels played defense in the second half, a sign they've improved dramatically since getting hammered by Newport Central Catholic 66-35 in their season opener.
"We ran into a buzz saw that night," Chevalier said. "But ever since then we've had some quality practices and getting everybody on the same page defensively."
Dixie Heights' football players Andrew Hedger and Drew Moore also needed time to transition to hoops.
Austin Shreck and Liam Rabe have been steady contributors, too.
Hatton, of course, is only going to keep improving as he gets in better shape. He said he's about 90 percent there, although it's been hard to tell he's not 100 percent this week.
"I'm back on the right track," he said.
And so is Dixie Heights.
The Colonels will play Knott County Central in Saturday night's quarterfinals.
DIXIE HEIGHTS 56, MALE 46
MALE (2-6) — Horne 6, Scott 16, Parker 10, Brasher 4, Leon 4, Julian 6.
DIXIE HEIGHTS (6-3) — Hatton 35, Schreck 5, Rabe 6, Isbel 2, Bolin 2, Moore 2, Hedger 2, Niehaus 2.
Male 12 11 11 12—46
Dixie Heights 4 17 19 16—56
Republic Bank Classic
At Lexington Catholic
Noon: Newport Catholic vs. Bryan Station/PRP winner
1:30: Lafayette/Augusta winner vs. Scott Co./Hazard winner
7: Lexington Catholic vs. Manual
8:30: Knott Co. Central vs. Dixie Heights