Scott Ruthsatz, who coached Covington Catholic to the Sweet Sixteen title last week, is fairly new to Kentucky high school basketball.
Before taking over at CovCath three years ago, the Sandusky, Ohio, native was an assistant at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J., under the legendary Bob Hurley. That's top-notch high school hoops for sure. But New Jersey's parochial school and overall state championships can't compare to Kentucky's Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.
Ruthsatz conceded that point after going through the glitzy pre-game ceremony then watching his son, senior point guard Nick Ruthsatz, rally CovCath past Scott County in overtime for the Colonels' first state title.
"It's an unbelievable atmosphere," Ruthsatz said. "I said before the game, with all the theatrics, that this was outrageous. In New Jersey we didn't do anything like this. But they put on a show here. It's the greatest show on Earth, for sure."
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Hurley was one of the first people Ruthsatz called after the title game. Hurley said as soon as he heard Ruthsatz's hoarse voice he knew his former assistant had big news. "I'm getting goose bumps thinking about it still," Hurley said. "As Scott was telling me about what had just happened to them in Rupp Arena, how they won in overtime, how Nick was MVP, I was vicariously experiencing it all. It's a phenomenal accomplishment, to do what he's done in just three years there."
Hurley, who has led St. Anthony to 25 parochial and 12 overall state titles, said "Nick is the poster child for passion, commitment and hard work. He epitomizes what you need in a great point guard."
■ Nick Ruthsatz, who signed with Findlay (Ohio), has six brothers and sisters, all younger than he is. His brother Aiden will be a freshman basketball player at CovCath next season. "He's going to have a lot to live up to," Nick said with a smile.
■ Last week's Sweet Sixteen attendance of 101,683 was 20,000 less than 2013. It was the fewest fans since 99,881 in 2002. Don't blame it on a private school, CovCath, winning the title. The Colonels had a great turnout for Sunday's finals. The 14,165 fans for the title game was the biggest crowd of the week, despite a conflict with UK-Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament.
■ The best shooters can have bad shooting games in the Sweet Sixteen in the vast cavern that is Rupp Arena. Scott County star Trent Gilbert found that out. Less than 24 hours after he lit up Trinity for 36 points, including 6-for-9 on three-pointers, Gilbert was 4-for-25, (2-for-14 on threes) against CovCath. Teammate Teddy Ware had a rough week, going 6-for-17 (0-for-18 on threes). Knott Central's Camron Justice was 8-for-27 (3-for-11 on threes) in a first-round loss to Bowling Green. Wayne County's Peyton Woods was 4-for-17 (2-for-10 on threes) in a first-round loss to McCracken County. Remember Chris Lofton? The Mason County star had a hot hand in the 2003 finals' victory over Ballard when he was 11-for-17 (9-for-12 on threes). But in the 2004 finals' loss to Warren Central, Lofton was 9-for-23 (4-for-13 on threes). It can happen to anybody.
■ CovCath used the same strategy on Scott County star Trent Gilbert as it did on Holmes' star James "Beetle" Bolden in the 9th Region finals. "Force contested shots, and wear him down as much as possible," Scott Ruthsatz said. Bolden was 3-for-19 on threes against CovCath. "That's the beauty of playing a team like Holmes."
■ CovCath made 47.5 percent of its field-goal attempts (87-for-183), including 42 percent of its three-pointers (23-for-55), and 74 percent of its free throws (84-for-114). The other 15 teams combined to shoot 41 percent from the field, 31 percent on threes, and 68 percent from the foul line.
■ Scott County Coach Billy Hicks added to his state records for overall victories (864) and in the Sweet Sixteen (26), but failed to join Ralph Carlisle of Lafayette and Neal Arnston of Manual as three-time state champs. Hicks' Cardinals won titles in 1998 and 2007, and also lost in the finals in 1999 (to Ballard) and 2012 (to Trinity). Hicks said he felt sorry for his players, not himself. "When I'm fishing in a few weeks, it'll really hurt to look back on how close we came. If we had just been able to put the ball in the basket a little better. But if 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, it'd be a merry Christmas."
■ Scott County's Tony Martini was chairman of the boards. The 6-3 senior had 13 rebounds in the semifinal win over Trinity, and 17 in the loss to CovCath. "Tony's one of the toughest competitors I've ever coached," Hicks said. "He dominated the glass."
■ Last week's Sweet Sixteen had more whistle stops than usual as more fouls were called than in any state tournament in the last 20 years. After the 2012 Sweet Sixteen was marred by physical play, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett pushed to tighten up the officiating and clean up the games. The referees got the message. In the 2013 Sweet Sixteen, more fouls were called and more free throws attempted than in a long time. This year a total of 632 fouls were called and there were 759 free throws, 209 more than in 2012, and more than in any tournament in at least 20 years.
■ There were no overtime boys' Sweet Sixteen finals between 1988 and 2008, but there have been three in the last six years. Holmes beat Central in two overtimes in 2009. Christian County beat Rowan County in two overtimes in 2011. CovCath beat Scott County in OT this year.
■ The championship game between Covington Catholic and Scott County was the first time district runners-up met in the finals of the Sweet Sixteen. Jim Swinford of Cynthiana radio station WCYN, who dabbles in state tournament history, did the research, with help from Bob Mays and Jeff Cooper. Swinford said the present format of district winners and runners-up advancing to region tournaments has been used since 1934, with the exception of 1943-46 when only district champs advanced. CovCath lost its district finals to Holmes but won the rematch in the region finals. Scott County lost its district finals to Henry Clay but won the rematch in the region finals. CovCath is the 10th district runner-up to win the state title, following Christian County (2011), Hopkinsville (1985), Lafayette (1979), Edmonson County (1976), Male (1971), Flaget (1960), Lafayette (1942), Inez (1941) and Midway (1937).
■ My guess is Trinity will be No. 1 going into the 2014-15 season. The Shamrocks will return five of their top seven players: 6-10 Raymond Spalding, Michael Stafford, Daniel Ramser, Jax Levitch and Christian Thieneman. Knott County Central figures to be a top-five team, too, with everybody back, led by Camron Justice, Evan Hall, Simon Christon and Chance Cornett. Wayne County will be highly rated with the trio of Trey Blevins, Corey Stearns and Peyton Woods. Clay County, Hopkinsville and Owensboro will also be very good.
■ Bowling Green's Nacarius Fant, Mr. Football, showed he can play hoops, too, in the Sweet Sixteen. Fant had 31 points in the Purples' semifinal loss to CovCath. He totaled 50 points in three games. It's not unusual for a Mr. Football to show basketball talent in the state tournament. Michael Bush of Male played in three Sweet Sixteens and had 118 points and 59 rebounds in nine games. He helped the Bulldogs to a state runner-up finish in 2001. Jared Lorenzen of Highlands also played in three state tournaments and had 99 points and 47 rebounds in seven games. He helped the Bluebirds finish second in 1997. Among other Mr. Football winners who played in the Sweet Sixteen: Dennis Johnson of Harrodsburg (32 points, 19 rebounds in two games), Brian Brohm of Trinity (20 points, 20 rebounds in two games), Curtis Pulley of Hopkinsville (43 points in three games), and James Quick of Trinity (18 points in three games).