On Christmas Eve, here's hoping Santa waits until March to bring you basketball players, coaches and fans what you really want.
■ After Wayne County boys' basketball coach Rodney Woods got his 700th career victory this week, he recalled with clarity his very first win, which came in his head coaching debut at Powell Valley, Tenn., 34 years ago.
What made the victory over Oneida, Tenn., so memorable was that Woods caught flak from the opposing coach and his own athletic director because Woods was up instructing his reserves in the last minute of a 30-point rout. Woods said his AD, whom he had replaced as coach, cursed him afterward because Oneida didn't want to play Powell Valley any more. "I told him, 'We'll find somebody else to play because I'm going to coach the guys on the end of the bench just like I do the guys who play all the time. I'm going to teach them how to play, too,'" Woods said.
That, in essence, is Woods' coaching philosophy. He gives all he's got to all his players, which explains why he's won 700 games at Powell Valley, Corbin and Wayne County. Woods is in his 25th season with the Cardinals, whom he has led to six state tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen runner-up finish to Pleasure Ridge Park in 1989. "We still think about and talk about that team a lot," Woods said. "The teams we've had since then get sick of hearing about how good those guys were."
Woods is well known for his Tennessee connection. He was a Kentucky high school star at Lone Jack (in Bell County) but played college hoops for UT's Big Orange. But Woods still has a bit of blue in his blood. Rupp's Runts, UK's 1966 NCAA runners-up, "are my favorite team to watch all time," he said. And Woods named his youngest son Riley after Rupp's Runt star Pat Riley.
Riley Woods, a fifth-grader, is a basketball player, like older brothers Landry, a sophomore, and Peyton, an eighth-grader. Woods, who's 58, says people figure he'll hang it up when his sons finish high school. His reply? "I didn't start coaching because of them and I won't quit because of them. I coach because I love to do it. When I go to practice and don't like it anymore, then I'll quit."
Woods likes coaching his current players. "I've had a lot of teams more talented, but this group has a lot of experience and has finally figured out what it takes to win." The Cards are led by senior Gavin Dunagan, who's been playing on the varsity since he was a seventh-grader. He's closing in on Jack Upchurch's school-record 2,441 points. Dunagan is already the program's all-time top rebounder with 1,300.
■ Campbellsville boys' coach Tim Davis reached the 500-win milestone last week when the Eagles beat Grayson County. "I've been fortunate to have had a lot of good players," Davis said.
Anthony Epps was one of his best, the leader of Davis's 1993 Marion County team that won the state title. Epps is in his first year as Marion County's coach. It just so happened that the game after Davis won No. 500, Campbellsville lost to Marion County. "It was a little bit strange," Davis said. "I think it was the first time I ever coached against a former player. We have a great relationship. Both teams competed well, and after it was over we hugged each other." Davis was at Marion County 12 years. He's in his 16th season at Campbellsville.
■ Checking the list, checking it twice, not many basketball teams are still perfect. Jeffersontown's boys (10-0) and girls (8-0) still have spotless records. The other undefeated boys: Ballard (10-0), Betsy Layne (4-0), Daviess County (9-0), Dixie Heights (10-0), Elliott County (4-0), Glasgow (7-0) and John Hardin (7-0).
The other undefeated girls: Calloway County (10-0), Campbell County (8-0), Hopkinsville (8-0), Mercy (8-0), Rockcastle County (6-0), and Shelby Valley (5-0).
■ It's been a better-than-expected December for Paul Laurence Dunbar's boys. After winning only three games last season, they're 7-5 under first-year coach Justin Yeary. Dunbar has beaten Lafayette twice, breaking an 0-12 slump against its city public school rivals.
■ Mercer County girls' coach Chris Souder spices up his 16-team Kentucky Army National Guard Titan Christmas Clash with something special. On the second day of the tournament (Dec. 28), the teams gather at Eddie Montgomery's Steakhouse for breakfast and a "Celebration of Athletes." The guest speaker for the second year in a row will be UK Hoops coach Matthew Mitchell.
■ Woodford County's girls won the Berea Holiday Classic in impressive style, with four double-digit wins capped by a 57-33 romp over Lexington Christian in the finals. It was the Yellowjackets' fourth Berea title since 2002. Woodford County is 7-1, its best start in five years. Coach Jay Lucas' team is led by seniors Taylor Kelly, Shannon McClintock and Alyssa Lucas, the coach's daughter. All of them made the all-tournament team, and Kelly, the MVP, got her 1,000th career point. "It was a pretty special four days," Jay Lucas said.
■ Frankfort's boys ended a 23-game district losing skid by beating Franklin County 70-63. Doryian Frazier's 21 points led the winners. For Franklin County, the loss snapped a 26-game district winning streak.
■ How different is girls' basketball today than when the KHSAA first sanctioned it in the mid-1970s? Roy Bowling said it's obvious in the sneakers. Bowling, who has been coaching girls' hoops for 35 years, noted: "The first team I ever coached with girls, you couldn't hardly tell their shoes had been worn at all at the end of the year because they didn't move that much."
■ Updates on some of last season's first-team all-staters hooping it up as college freshmen: Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice (Shelby Valley), averaging 4.7 points and 15 minutes a game at Louisville; Josh Sewell (Trinity), 1.7 points and six minutes at Miami of Ohio; Ricardo Johnson (Holmes), 2.7 points and 13 minutes at Ohio University; Chad Jackson (Scott County), 1.7 points and 16 minutes at James Madison; Jarrod Polson (West Jessamine), less than one point and two minutes at UK; Dakotah Euton (Scott County), 1.4 points and six minutes at Akron. Couldn't find stats on Ge-Lawn Guyn (Scott County) at South Kent Prep in Connecticut, or Elijah Pittman (Holmes) at Chipola Junior College in Florida.
■ Updates on last year's four senior all-state girls: Sarah Beth Barnette (LCA), averaging less than a point and seven minutes a game at UK; Ebony Rowe (Dunbar), 16 points, nine rebounds and 35 minutes at Middle Tennessee; Samantha Drake (Nelson County), five points and 15 minutes at UK; Antonita Slaughter (Louisville Christian), 3.7 points and 11 minutes at Louisville.
■ Condolences to Sweet Sixteen championship coach Jason Booher, whose mother, Bonnye S. Burton, died a couple weeks ago at age 59. Booher guided Shelby Valley to the boys' state basketball title last March. He's now at Holmes. "She was my No. 1 fan," Booher said of his mom.
■ Condolences to the family of former Wolfe County basketball coach Robert L. Creech, who died last weekend. His son Robert S. Creech is the Wolves' current coach.
■ How many quarterbacks are lucky enough to end their high school and college careers with victories? Not many. But Justin Burke is among them. In his last game at Lexington Catholic, Burke directed the Knights to a 49-21 win over Bowling Green in the Class 3A championship game. In his last game at Louisville, Burke directed the Cardinals to a 31-28 win over Southern Mississippi in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
■ A tip of the helmet to Tates Creek alum David Akers, longtime NFL kicker for the Eagles. Akers perfectly executed an onside kick in Philadelphia's dramatic fourth-quarter comeback against the New York Giants. Akers has a knack for successful onside kicks — he's 8-for-18 on converting them. Akers has played more games as an Eagle than anyone in the franchise history. In 12 seasons in Philadelphia, he's played in 205 games, including playoffs. In his career he's made 292 of 356 field goals (82 percent), and 440 of 446 extra points (99 percent).
■ Former Perry Central football star Jordan Amis made an impact as a freshman at Pikeville College. He had 38 catches for 729 yards and eight TDs, and was named all-Mid South Conference honorable mention.