High School Sports

Sweet Sixteen preview: Paul Dunbar vs. Mercer County

Mercer County's Trevan Faulkner pulled in a rebound as Mercer County defeated Danville 78-56 on Tuesday January 5, 2016 in Danville, Ky.
Mercer County's Trevan Faulkner pulled in a rebound as Mercer County defeated Danville 78-56 on Tuesday January 5, 2016 in Danville, Ky. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

Region: 11th

Record: 29-6

Enrollment: 2,288

Coach’s résumé

Scott Chalk is 394-346. He was at Franklin County before coming to Dunbar. He began his career as an assistant at Oak Hill Academy before head-coaching stops at Williamstown and Frankfort. Chalk has coached in the 11th Region for 24 years, behind only Madison Central’s Allen Feldhaus.

Starters

0 Jordan Lewis 6-0 Sr. 11.6 ppg

4 Dontell Brown 6-5 Jr. 6.7 ppg

11 Taveion Hollingsworth 6-2 Jr. 20.9 ppg

13 Justin Kelley 6-3 Sr. 4.7 ppg

23 Darius Williams 6-4 Sr. 16.7 ppg

How they got here

Dunbar is on a seven-game win streak, its latest ones coming against Henry Clay and Scott County, both top teams in the state. The 11th Region champ won its games this season by an average of 14.6 points. The Bulldogs avenged two of their losses — versus Trinity in the King of the Bluegrass and at Henry Clay — a few weeks after they took place. Taylor County and Madison Central handed them their only other losses against Kentucky competition.

They have lived up to high expectations after coming off a 14-15 season that ended with a first-round district loss last February. “They learned something from that (year) and realized that you have to make some mental plays to win the thing. It’s not just about being athletic,” Chalk said following their region-title win last week.

Ex-Cat’s impact

Marquis Estill, the former Madison Central and University of Kentucky standout, is an assistant at Dunbar who’s helped Dontell Brown transform from a guy who had trouble finishing around the rim early on to one of the Bulldogs’ most consistent options on offense. Brown is a Division I prospect in football. “He had to get back in basketball shape,” Estill said. “Playing football’s totally different. He’s got in a lot better shape. … We think Dontell’s a big key for the team. He’s realizing that he’s a big piece of the puzzle.

Player to watch

Back in December, Chalk said Taveion Hollingsworth “might be the best player in the state.” The junior has excellent touch around the rim, can shoot and handles the ball with precision. He has arms longer than his 6-2 frame suggests.

His dream offer would come from UK: Maybe he can follow in Dominique Hawkins’ footsteps and earn one with a memorable showing in Rupp Arena?

Sweet history

This is trip number four for the Bulldogs, who haven’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 1997. The old Dunbar High School reached the state tournament six times.

MERCER COUNTY

Region: 12th

Record: 33-1

Enrollment: 839

Coach’s résumé

Josh Cook is 105-42 in just his fifth year as a head coach. He was at June Buchanan for a season and spent two years at Lawrence County before arriving at Mercer County last season.

Starters

12 Trevon Faulkner 6-4 So. 18.4 ppg

13 Will Hager 6-4 Sr. 14.2 ppg

21 Alijah Mink 6-3 Sr. ppg

24 Dylan James 6-4 Jr. 15.4 ppg

34 Drew Davis 6-3 Sr. 3.8 ppg

How they got here

Mercer County enters with the best win percentage of any team in the tournament, coming off a school record for wins (10 more than its previous best season, set last year). It whipped Southwestern in the region semifinals after escaping with a three-point win on the road three weeks before, then snuffed out a red-hot Casey County team looking to play spoiler in the finals. Setting aside individual goals to focus on bidding for a state title has gotten the Titans this far and Cook hopes it’ll carry them the rest of the way. “Any time a 17- or 18-year-old kid’s willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the team, that’s a rare find nowadays,” Cook said.

Weight of one loss

No team has perhaps been more chastised for a single loss than the Titans after they fell at Lafayette by 19 points, one night after the Generals were demolished by Lexington Christian. Some of that’s because, well, it’s the only blemish on Mercer’s record. The Titans took it better than the rest of the state. “In its own way, it was kind of good for our kids,” Cook said. “ … It opened up their minds to see some things we weren’t doing well and it’s allowed them to get motivated and want to improve.”

The 12th Region champ gets an immediate chance to prove itself against top-ranked Dunbar. Transition defense and forcing Bulldogs to take tough shots will be key..

Player to watch

Will Hager signed with Colorado School of Mines, a Division II program, back in November to hone his focus on winning a title. The senior dropped from first in scoring a season ago to third on the team this year, making him the flag waver for the team’s willingness to do what’s needed in order to succeed as a unit. “He decided the entire year he was going to put the team first … ,” Cook said. “He’s an uncommon breed.”

Sweet history

The Titans’ only other appearance was in 2000, when they fell to state semifinalist Scott County in the first round, 95-47.

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