It's time for the Christmas rush, and we're not talking about the stampede of shoppers at the mall. We're talking about the blitz of holiday basketball tournaments between now and New Year's Day.
Most of the best teams in the state will face tough sledding over the next couple of weeks. Few, if any, will escape without a loss or two.
Trinity, the top-rated boys' team in the state, heads to Florida for the City of Palms. That tournament includes the nation's No. 1 team, Montverde (Fla.) Academy. After Christmas, Trinity plays in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.
Newport Central Catholic, No. 2 in the state, is in the King of the Bluegrass at Fairdale this weekend. No. 3 Knott County Central plays defending state champ Covington Catholic in the Kentucky Bank Challenge at Rowan County on Saturday night, then heads to Myrtle Beach for the Beach Ball Classic after Christmas.
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The top-rated girls' team in the state, Elizabethtown, and No. 2 Butler, the defending state champ, are in the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic that tips off at Lexington Catholic on Friday. That tournament also includes No. 4 Ashland Blazer, No. 7 Mercy, No. 9 Allen County-Scottsville, No. 10 Clark County, No. 11 Sacred Heart, No. 16 Anderson County and No. 17 East Carter. Among the top players are E-town junior Erin Boley, who has committed to play at Notre Dame, and UK signee Morgan Rich of Allen County-Scottsville.
■ Paris hasn't had a winning season in boys' hoops since 2004. Since then Paris has gotten off to slow starts: 0-5, 0-6, 3-11, 0-6, 0-5, 3-14, 1-10 ... well, you get the idea. But the Greyhounds are on a different track under second-year coach Terence Brooks. Going into Thursday night's game against Frankfort, Paris was 5-1, including a victory over Montgomery County (ending a 26-game losing streak to the Indians), and an upset of Lexington Christian.
"Wins like that are motivation for our kids to continue to play hard," Brooks said. Koebe Garrad has been a standout for Paris. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds a game. He didn't play football this year because of a knee injury, so he got in the gym early. "That gave him a head start on the other guys who did play football," Brooks said.
Paris has a promising group of freshmen and sophomores, and that's made practice more competitive. Brooks knows about competing. He was a star player at Paris. He remembers the heartache of losing in the 10th Region finals to Mason County in double overtime in 1985. He coached Paris' girls six years and led them to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004.
■ Letcher Central's Torell Carter, who wasn't rated among the best players in the 14th Region in the preseason, is averaging 33 points through six games. The 6-2 sophomore had 39 against Union, Va., 34 against Belfry and 32 against Phelps in helping the Cougars to a 5-1 record.
"I think he's going to be a good one," Coach Robert Hammonds said. "Great kid and coachable." Carter averaged 10 points as a freshman.
■ Green County sophomore guard Dominique Compton is averaging 28 points and 10 rebounds through seven games. He had 35 points against Hart County and 33 against Marion County. Compton had a career-high 40 points last season against Hart County in the district tournament.
■ Good luck figuring out the 12th Region boys' basketball picture. Last season Wayne County won its first 24 games, finished 16-0 in the region and made it to Rupp Arena for the second year in a row. This season Wayne County has already lost twice in the region.
Try to make sense of these early season results: East Jessamine beat Southwestern by 15 points. Southwestern beat Wayne County by 22. Wayne County beat Pulaski County by 20. Pulaski County beat East Jessamine by 21. Boyle County, Lincoln County and Mercer County are still unbeaten. The region figures to be a wild scramble from now until March.
■ Cordia won't go to court to appeal the sanctions levied by the KHSAA against its boys' basketball program. "There will be no more appeals filed on behalf of Cordia," said Cavanaugh Trent, athletics director of Knott County schools. Most of the original sanctions were upheld by the KHSAA Board of Control, including a fine of $25,980 and a ban from postseason play this season and next, at an appeals hearing on Nov. 12. The suspension of Cordia's boys' basketball program for the entire 2014-15 season was lifted, but the Lions are limited to 15 games and can't compete in post-season play. After the Nov. 12 meeting, Alice Whitaker, director of Lotts Creek Community School, said it was "not a dead issue" and that she intended to fight the KHSAA in Frankfort circuit court. But Trent said Cordia Principal Jonathan Mullins "said he's not appealing any further." Cordia, coached by former Kentucky player Rodrick Rhodes, has played two games this season. It lost to Sheldon Clark and beat Hazard. The Lions are in a tournament at Webster County this weekend. According to Stan Steidel, one of the organizers of the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic, Cordia didn't join the small school association this year, so it won't be eligible to play in that tournament, which is held during the regular season.
■ Lexington Catholic announced in October that it was withdrawing from an agreement with Fayette County's public schools that allowed regular-season sports contests between the private and public schools.
Fayette County schools superintendent Tom Shelton asked Lexington Catholic president Steve Angelucci if the two sides could get together and try to salvage the agreement, which had been in place since 2010. Fayette County athletics director Don Adkins said they've met twice, and the last meeting also included representatives from Lexington Christian and Sayre. "We're in conversation," Adkins said. "We're trying to work out some compromises." Adkins said there will be another meeting in January, after Marlene Helm takes over as interim superintendent. Shelton announced in November that he was resigning, effective at the end of 2014.
■ Scott County girls' basketball coach Steve Helton got his 300th win when the Cardinals beat Boyle County last week. Helton has an overall record of 300-141 in 15 years at Scott County. His teams have won 10 district and three region titles, and the Cards were state runners-up to Mercy in 2010.
■ Three-time defending 2nd Region boys' champ Hopkinsville, which has won at least 30 games each of the last three seasons, is off to another strong start. Tim Haworth's Tigers are 6-0 heading into the King of the Bluegrass at Fairdale. They play powerhouse Christ Presbyterian of Nashville on Saturday. Hoptown senior star Jaqualis Matlock is averaging 23.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Tigers are averaging 89 points a game.
■ Roscoe Shackelford, a sports legend in Hazard, died this week. He was 80. He earned 14 letters in baseball, basketball, football and track at Hazard in the 1950s. He led Hazard to the 1953 Sweet Sixteen and went on to play college basketball at Louisville. Mr. Shackelford later coached Hazard to the state tournament four times. In 1964 the Bulldogs fell in the semifinals to eventual champ Seneca, and in 1965 they fell in the semifinals to eventual champ Breckinridge County. "We lost to Wes Unseld and Seneca in '64, and to Butch Beard and Breckinridge County in '65," he said in a 1995 interview. "So just look at the type of competition we lost to. There's been no better than Unseld and Beard."
■ First-round pairings for the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic state basketball tournaments in Frankfort. Girls (Jan. 29): 3rd Region vs. 13th; 16th vs. 5th; 9th vs. 12th; 11th vs. 4th; 14th vs. 2nd; 6th vs. 1st; 7th vs. 8th; 15th vs. 10th. Boys (Jan. 30): 2nd Region vs. 14th; 11th vs. 6th; 9th vs. 3rd; 7th vs. 16th; 5th vs. 15th; 10th vs. 8th; 1st vs. 4th; 13th vs. 12th.
■ Mason County quarterback Jake O'Mara, who threw for 4,000 yards and 31 TDs in his career, has a scholarship offer from Mississippi Valley State. O'Mara missed the first four games this season because of a knee injury.
■ Davis Mattingly of Male threw a 6-yard TD pass to Butler's William Johnson with less than a minute left to give the Louisville-area team a 31-28 victory in the Best of the Bluegrass all-star football game Sunday in Louisville. Scott County's Clay McKee led the state stars. He threw three TD passes, two to Bryan Station's C.J. Walker and another to Caldwell County's Jalen Boyd.
■ Merideth Jewell of state champion Mercy is Gatorade's volleyball player of the year in Kentucky. Jewell, who was also named Miss Volleyball, has signed with Morehead State. Mercy (40-1) was named national champs by PrepVolleyball.com.
■ Collins sophomore Gabriella Karas, who's won four consecutive Class 2A state cross country titles, finished ninth in last weekend's Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. Karas ran the 5K in 17:56. She finished 25th in the nationals last year.