High School Sports

High school notebook: Prep football coaches enjoy chance to watch Kentucky's spring practices

UK head football coach Mark Stoops  at practice  on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
UK head football coach Mark Stoops at practice on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

For spring break, high school basketball coaches flocked to Florida to wind down after their winter-long grind, while baseball and softball coaches flocked to Florida so their teams could escape the bracing wind chill in the Bluegrass.

For spring break, high school football coaches flocked, not to Florida, but to the University of Kentucky campus to get a peek at new coach Mark Stoops conducting spring practice. Several dozen high school coaches have been at UK's Nutter Field House the last couple of weeks, some of them finding time even before spring break to watch the Cats.

Franklin County Coach Chris Tracy said UK sent out an email with its football practice schedule and told coaches they were welcome to come watch. "It's a great PR thing," Tracy said.

Mason County Coach David Buchanan was at UK last Friday and sat in on offensive coordinator Neal Brown's meeting with his quarterbacks. "I like to hear how another guy phrases things and teaches things," Buchanan said. "If you pay attention, you can always pick up a thing or two."

Bryan Station Coach Frank Parks was on hand to watch the Cats practice, maybe to get a feel for the kind of competition his team will face this coming season. The Defenders' first three games will be against defending Class 5A champ Bowling Green, defending 4A champ Highlands and perennial 4A power Lexington Catholic.

Former Lexington Catholic Coach Bob Sphire, now at North Gwinnett (Ga.), was back in Kentucky for the Easter holiday. He and his son Hayden, a promising college quarterback prospect who'll start for North Gwinnett this season, stopped by Nutter and took in practice. Sphire, who used the spread attack at Lexington Catholic even before Hal Mumme brought the "Air Raid" craze to UK, goes anywhere and everywhere to learn all he can to tweak his wide-open offense. This year he's already visited Jacksonville State, Middle Tennessee, Troy and UK. "You never stop learning," he said.

For a lot of coaches, Florida's surf, sand and sunshine can't compete with football.

■ When Robert Brooks got the news 43 years ago that he had won Mr. Basketball honors he was sitting in a classroom at Richmond Madison when the principal came on the school's public-address system and made the special announcement. "I didn't have a clue I was going to win it," Brooks said this week. "I figured Bill Bunton (of state champion Male) would." Last Friday night, Brooks was among those gathered at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville for the banquet to announce this year's Mr. and Miss Basketball. Brooks was delighted when another player from his hometown, Dominique Hawkins of Madison Central, was named Mr. Basketball. Brooks said he and Hawkins are "distant cousins." He described Hawkins as a "very humble and God-fearing young man," and a talented player who "proved himself by excelling" against top competition.

The same could be said for Brooks, who led Madison to a state runner-up finish, losing to Male 70-69 in the 1970 state finals. Brooks, a 6-foot-5 guard, scored more than 2,200 points in his career. He averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds as a senior. He scored 128 points in the Sweet Sixteen, the second-highest total in state tournament history at that time. He had 47 in the quarterfinals against Breathitt County. Brooks went on to play college ball at Eastern Kentucky.

Hawkins said he was "honored" to meet Brooks for the first time last Friday.

■ Dominique Hawkins of Madison Central might not be the only star from this year's Sweet Sixteen who could end up at Kentucky next season. Hopkinsville's Jordan Majors is interested in walking on at UK, and Tigers Coach Tim Haworth said the interest is mutual. Majors, a 6-foot-2 senior guard (with a 6-11 wingspan), had 68 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals in three tournament games. In a semifinal loss to Madison Central, Majors had 31 points, five assists, three assists and three steals. Wright State is among the schools recruiting Majors.

■ Louisville's women in the NCAA Final Four means that Tia Gibbs and Sara Hammond have a chance to join the select company of Miss Basketball winners who have won Sweet Sixteen and NCAA titles. Lisa Harrison led Southern to the 1988 state title, was named Miss Basketball in 1989, and played for Tennessee's 1991 NCAA champs. Ukari Figgs led Scott County to the 1995 state title, was Miss Basketball that year, and helped Purdue win the 1999 NCAA crown. Gibbs starred on Butler's 2008 state title team and was Miss Basketball. Hammond led Rockcastle County to the state title in 2011 and was Miss Basketball.

■ Grant Brannen, who coached Newport Central Catholic to the boys' All "A" state title this year, is leaving his alma mater for Walton-Verona. Brannen played at NewCath and was an assistant there for eight seasons before taking over as head coach seven years ago. Former NewCath coach Ron Dawn will return for another stint with the 'Breds. Dawn, a 1974 NewCath grad, has more than 400 career victories as coach, including All "A" state titles with the 'Breds boys and girls.

■ Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville won a second consecutive Tennessee Class AA state title a couple of weeks ago. Jalen Lindsey, a 6-7 junior, was MVP of the tournament and was named Mr. Basketball. The Lions, who have won the King of the Bluegrass the last two years, have a 63-game winning streak against Tennessee competition.

■ Taylor Gover, Pulaski County's all-time leading scorer with 2,195 points, signed with The University of the Cumberlands.

■ Henderson County has hired Tony Lewis as its football coach. He'll succeed Clay Clevenger, who left the Colonels for Danville. Lewis has been at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz for five years, and led the Panthers to a state title in 2009. Lewis previously coached at Wheelersburg, Ohio, and has an overall record of 100-32.

■ Three-time defending 5th Region baseball champ (and 2011 state titlist) Central Hardin is 10-0, the best start in school history. Bruins senior ace Drew Harrington had 16 strikeouts in a three-hit, 6-0 shutout of Butler on Wednesday. Central Hardin, No. 7 in the state, played No. 10 Male, also 10-0, on Thursday.

■ Corbin was a cradle of great athletes from the 1930s through the 1960s, with the Bird and Selvy brothers, and Roy Kidd, among the town's most famous stars. Gary West has written a book — The Boys from Corbin: America's Greatest Little Sports Town — documenting that history. In the past West has written books about King Kelly Coleman and the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association. He will have a book signing in Corbin next weekend.

■ Mark Starns, who led Fleming County to the Sweet Sixteen last month, spent time working for the Boston Celtics when Rick Pitino was the coach. Starns noted recently that from 1997-2001 he shared office space with three guys who are now head coaches in the NBA or college: Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers, Kevin Willard of Seton Hall and Andy Enfield, who was hired this week by Southern Cal after leading Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Starns said in an email that he and Vogel started on the same day as scouts/video coordinators, and that they, along with Willard and Enfield, "shared basketball knowledge, watched film, scouted, saved up a wealth of information and played the stock market on tips."

■ Rick Bentley, sports information director at the University of Pikeville, points out that when UPike basketball coach Kelly Wells was at Mason County he called up eighth-graders Darius Miller and Trevor Setty, and seventh-grader Russ Middleton, to the Royals' varsity late in the 2003-2004 season. Mason County, led by Chris Lofton, won the state title. Four years later, the Royals, coached by Chris O'Hearn, won the Sweet Sixteen again, with Miller, Setty and Middleton leading the way. Those three players have won national titles on the college level — Miller at UK (NCAA in 2012), Setty at Pikeville (NAIA in 2011) and Middleton at Georgetown (NAIA in 2013).

■ Anderson County grad Will Carlton, who helped Georgetown win the NAIA national title in 1998 and was proud to see the Tigers win the championship again this year, thinks it's worth noting that Central Kentucky is home to the NCAA's and NAIA's all-time winningest programs (UK with 2,111 victories and Georgetown College with 1,725). "Pretty neat to have the NCAA leader and NAIA leader within 15 miles of each other," Carlton said in an email.

■ Paul Laurence Dunbar grad Lee Kiefer, a freshman fencer at Notre Dame, won an NCAA title in the women's foil and had an overall record of 22-1 in the championships in San Antonio. Kiefer won a silver medal in the World Championships in 2011, and was on the U.S. Olympic team last year.