Fayette County

LCA trio a fearsome threesome

Last season college coaches would approach Jason Seamands and ask him which of his top players was the best.

The Lexington Christian coach struggled for an answer.

It was like comparing an apple to an orange to a pineapple.

"In the end, I'd turn around and just ask the coach what their team needed," he said. "Then I knew which player they wanted. ... That's the thing: Each girl brings something a little different."

But, Seamands surmises, that's what makes second-ranked Lexington Christian one of the favorites to win the Houchens Industries Sweet Sixteen this week in Bowling Green.

It's his big three of Sarah Beth Barnette, Courtney Clifton and Anna Martin. Each has signed or committed to play big-time Division I basketball.

Some high school coaches go decades without having a high-caliber star. Seamands balances three of them daily.

But you won't hear him complaining.

"In one-on-one drills, I get to put Anna Martin against Courtney Clifton," he said. "How many high school coaches get a chance to do that? ... They make each other better and in turn they make us better."

But don't refer to the girls as "the big three" as their coach did once in practice.

It made the players cringe.

"It was awkward," said Barnette, a University of Kentucky commitment.

Martin said she looked around to see if anyone else had heard the reference.

"We definitely don't think of ourselves as 'the big three' or the big anything," the DePaul signee said.

"We never, ever think like that," Clifton said. "We're just players on this team."

Statistically, though, they're so more than just players on the team.

They make LCA three-dimensional, scoring 79.4 percent of LCA's points and grab bing 58 percent of the Eagles' rebounds in a game.

"I don't think there's a better threesome in the state," Rowan County Coach Scott Tackett said. "They were definitely the best we've seen."

His No. 21 Rowan County team was riding a 17-game unbeaten streak when it lost 91-57 to Christian.

Tim Mudd, coach of top-ranked Elizabethtown, who will face LCA in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday, agreed.

"They're as talented as anybody in the state," he said. "That big three — that's what I like to call them — they're as good as anybody I've seen."

Behind the "big three," the Eagles have won a state-record three straight All "A" Classic championships.

They helped win the school's first-ever state basketball championship in 2007.

Riding a current 15-game win streak, they have a chance to do it again this week.

Their differences as players make their team stronger.

"X-and-O wise, they're very different, which is good for us," Seamands said. "We run sets for each of them that highlights their style of play."

Martin has the most complete numbers, averaging 20 points and 5.7 rebounds. The senior guard leads the team in field-goal percentage (53.1) as well as assists (3.8) and steals (3.6) per game.

"Anna is much more of a slasher," Seamands said. "She is definitely a strong, aggressive driver, but if you look at most of her points they're in the open floor and pull-ups."

Clifton, who averages a team-best 21.8 points, does most of her damage from beyond the arc, hitting 44.5 percent from long range. She has made 114 three-point shots this season.

The WKU signee also averages 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.3 assists.

"Courtney has as good of shot preparation of any player I've seen boy or girl," Seamands said. "She can get her feet set, shoulders squared and it gives every ball she shoots a chance."

Barnette can score in many ways, making 46.8 percent of her field goals and 37.3 percent from three-point range.

The junior, who averages 14.3 points and a team-best 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots, also adds nearly two steals and two assists a game.

"Sarah Beth has got amazing guard skills and she's a double-figure rebounder; she's almost like a point guard the way she handles the ball on the break," her coach said.

Perhaps more impressive than their individual talent is their work ethic, he said.

"I have to think really hard to remember games where they don't all play well," Seamands said. "That's pretty good for a coach if you have to think hard for a time where they're not playing well."

Practicing against one another makes them better, too.

Martin and Clifton have been pushing each other since they started playing on an AAU team when they were 13 years old.

"We feed off each other," Clifton said. "We help each other out."

Even as they put the pressure on one another, they take it off, too.

"There's not a lot of pressure on any of us to have perfect games because we know the others are going to have good games," Martin said. "It's the perfect situation."

Herald-Leader staff writer Ross Jacobson contributed to this report.

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