GAME EIGHT: 8 P.M. Thursday
Knott Co. Central vs. Calloway Co.
KNOTT COUNTY CENTRAL
Region: 14th | Record: 30-2 | Enrollment: 610
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B.B. King has a 133-31 record in five years. He's guided the Patriots to four consecutive region titles. He was previously an assistant at Knott Central and Letcher County Central.
No. Player Ht. Yr. Ppg.
5 Camron Justice 6-3 Sr. 23.8
24 Evan Hall 6-6 Sr. 14.6
21 Simon Christon 6-2 Sr. 6.6
25 Chance Cornett 6-3 Sr. 7.9
20 Austin Combs 6-0 Sr. 7.2
The Patriots hope to be the first 14th Region team in almost 30 years to get past the quarterfinals. They've got the experience and talent to do it. King said they're "bigger, stronger and hopefully smarter" as they play in Rupp for the fourth year in a row. Justice (Vanderbilt signee) is Knott Central's go-to guy, but King said the difference with Justice this year is "he knows he doesn't have to score 35 or 40 points for us to win. The best games he's played are the ones where he's got up less than 10 shots, but he's distributing the ball and rebounding." Hall (IUPUI) is a versatile talent, too, and a tough match-up for opponents. Christon has started since he was a freshman and is a solid role player. Cornett has had big games when the Patriots needed a third scorer. Combs, a transfer from Cordia, has blended in well. "We've had a good combination of each person accepting their role," King said.
B.B. & B.B.
Famous blues musician and singer B.B. King is not to be confused with Knott Central coach B.B. King. The blues singer's real name is Riley. The coach's real name is Barry. "My brother Larry started calling me B.B. when I was real little," the coach said. "Nobody knows me as Barry." Wait a second. His brother is Larry King? Yep. But not the famous talk show host.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Justice, who averaged 20 points as an eighth-grader at East Ridge, will finish his career as one of the top scorers in state history. He's currently fourth on the boys' all-time list with 3,549 points. (He needs 19 this week to move into third place.) He has 389 three-pointers, third most in state history. He's made 834 free throws, only three shy of the record set by Larry Gritton of Oneida Baptist 22 years ago. He also has 612 assists and 569 rebounds. Justice has been a dead-eye shooter. He's made 42 percent of his threes and 84 percent of his free throws.
Knott County is in the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year, fifth time in six years, and 12th time overall. It reached the quarterfinals in 2012 and '13, and lost in the first round to Bowling Green last year.
Region: 1st | Record: 29-3 | Enrollment: 920
Terry Birdsong, who got his 400th career victory when the Lakers beat Murray in the region finals, is in his second stint at Calloway County. He coached the Lakers for eight years, including a Sweet Sixteen trip in 2003, before leaving for Graves County. He led the Eagles to the state tournament in 2009 and '13 before returning to Calloway County.
No. Player Ht. Yr. Ppg.
4 Parker Adams 6-4 Sr. 17.6
31 Skyler Hunter 6-7 Sr. 11.3
33 Connor Wagner 6-2 Sr. 11.3
31 Wade Carter 5-9 Sr. 7.7
5 Clay Smotherman 6-2 Sr. 5.7
Calloway County was supposed to get to Rupp last year but lost in the first round of the region. When Birdsong took over as coach this season he told his players they could either "embrace expectations or run from them." The senior-laden Lakers embraced the challenge of being the region favorite and won 29 of 32 games. "Our guys have played well in the biggest games," Birdsong said. "They're competitors." Calloway County is comfortable playing up-tempo or grind-it-out basketball. "The big thing is we try to be solid on defense," the coach said. Another of the Lakers' strengths is their three-point shooting (187 of 446, 42%). Hunter and Wagner are especially proficient from long range. Adams is the do-everything leader. Wade runs the point. Smotherman is a defensive ace. The Lakers also have smarts. Three seniors are 4.0 students, two others sport 3.9 GPAs. Hunter is one of the top students and a top prospect. He has several offers, including Division I Colgate and St. Francis, and Divsion II Bellarmine.
Birdsong doesn't brag about his shining moment as a player in the Sweet Sixteen, so he's not sure his Lakers know about it. As a senior standout for Marshall County in 1987, Birdsong had 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 74-71 first-round loss to Ballard. The kicker: Birdsong outscored future Mr. Basketball, Tennessee All-American and NBA standout Allan Houston, who had 34 points for Ballard.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Birdsong described Adams, player of the year in the 1st Region, as "kind of an old-school guy with a high skill set." He can post up, run the point, shoot, defend and rebound. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding (6.5 rpg), and is second in assists. A four-year starter, Adams has more than 1,500 points, third most in school history. (Former UK player Stan Key is the Lakers' all-time leader.) Adams is getting looks from Division II schools.
SWEET SIXTEEN HISTORY
This is Calloway County's second state tournament. It lost to Warren Central in the first round in 2003.