Jeff Davis is 83-70 in five seasons at South Laurel. He was previously an assistant at Simon Kenton and Russell and helped the latter reach its first 16th Region title. He also coached at Morehead State under former University of Kentucky star Kyle Macy.
0 Andrew Griffith 6-4 Sr. 10.3 ppg
10 Ryan Anders 6-4 So. 7.7 ppg
25 Jared Grubb 6-1 Jr. 15.0 ppg
30 JJ Ramey 6-2 Fr. 6.0 ppg
44 Caleb Taylor 6-8 Sr. 14.7 ppg
How they got here
South Laurel returned four starters and six of its top eight from a team that Davis felt had a shot at reaching Rupp Arena last season but was knocked off by eventual region champ Williamsburg. “Our kids really took that to heart and worked hard,” Davis said. The Cardinals like to work the ball inside-out — and why not with a double-double machine like the 6-foot-8 Caleb Taylor, who’s averaging 11.1 rebounds, down low? Things tend to go pretty well for South Laurel as long as the ball doesn’t die.
Braden Miller, a starter for the Cards last season and for the first 18 games this year, was moved to a bench role after some struggles. It’s worked wonders for his confidence, said Davis, who has dubbed Miller “The Bulldog” due to his fierceness on the baseball mound. The senior has been to three of the past four baseball state tournaments and has committed to pitch at the University of the Cumberlands. He was the 13th Region baseball tournament MVP as a sophomore. “He’ll challenge you. And that’s what he brings to our basketball team. He’ll challenge them to be better than what they are.”
Player to watch
Caleb Taylor is a Mr. Basketball candidate, but it’s Andrew Griffith who’s given South Laurel some state-tournament experience. As a junior he averaged 13.2 points for the same Williamsburg squad that ended the Cardinals’ season last year. Transferring to South Laurel wasn’t without its hurdles. It took until after Christmas for Griffith to get acclimated to a different philosophy and routine. “He struggled early on,” Davis said. “I think it was more he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. … He was just out there instead of being himself and being the player he’s capable of being.”
This is the school’s seventh trip to the Sweet Sixteen and fourth from the 13th Region. The Cards won their first state title in 2005 after coming out of the 12th Region. Laurel County won seven 12th Region titles before the split that created North Laurel and South Laurel in 1992.
First-year coach Frankie Smith is anything but a rookie. He’s been a head coach in West Virginia, an assistant in the Division One ranks at Miami (Ohio), a Division II head coach at Saginaw Valley State and was most recently at Sheldon Clark before taking the Christian County gig. He’s 192-79 overall at the high school level.
2 Jaylen Sebree 6-6 Jr. 12.5 ppg
3 Tyrik Edwards 6-1 Sr. 16.3 ppg
4 Roland Butler 6-2 Sr. 6.9 ppg
11 Tiavey Mason 5-8 Jr. 9.5 ppg
33 Detorrion Ware 6-5 So. 17.9 ppg
How they got here
Christian County was in (relative) shambles during its four seasons following a state title in 2011, back when Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey was manning the team. Between that run and this season, the Colonels had gone winless against intracounty rival Hopkinsville; they made up for lost time as they swept the Tigers 4-0 for the first time in program history. That included a 82-72 win in the 2nd Region finals, 31 years after Hopkinsville defeated the Colonels 56-55 in the teams’ only prior meeting in the finals. “Every kid on my team had never beaten Hopkinsville one time,” Smith said.
Mountaineer State champ
Smith won 78 percent of his games as the head coach of Tug Valley (W.Va.) and guided that program to its first Class 2A state championship in 1999. It had never advanced past the state quarterfinals before Smith’s tenure. Other than that season, Smith said, “I’ve never been 100 percent happy with the way a season ended.”
To his team, he analogizes coaching and playing basketball to Janet Jackson’s song What Have You Done For Me Lately? “What you’ve done, yea it’s nice. … But now what?”
Player to watch
It was flattering, Smith said, to have Edwards named 2nd Region Player of the Year, making him a finalist for Mr. Basketball in the process. “You can’t vote for your own kid,” Smith said. “So other coaches are choosing who they feel is player of the year.” Edwards, a point guard who can finish through contact and has a good mid-range game, averages 16.3 points on 60.4 percent shooting to go with 4.1 rpg. “He is a beast, man,” Smith said. “I don’t know any other way to say it.”
Fifty years after making its first appearance, Christian County won its first state title in 2011. The Colonels are in the Sweet Sixteen for the 18th time, the most of any team in the field.