Paul Laurence Dunbar put together an exciting comeback against Bowling Green to advance to the semifinals of the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen, but former Bulldogs star Cameron Mills wasn’t around to see it.
Mills, who played on two NCAA championship teams at the University of Kentucky, can’t stand to be in the building for a pressure-packed event like the one his alma mater played Friday afternoon. His inability to directly affect the game proves too heavy a weight to bear.
He left Rupp Arena soon after he was done broadcasting the Newport Central Catholic-Murray game which preceded Dunbar’s clash with the Purples. Wednesday’s first-round classic against Mercer County? He only stuck around until halftime, fulfilling a request to shoot a free throw during the midgame festivities before taking off. He followed the game on Twitter.
“That was probably the best way for me to watch it because I hate watching it live, important games like this,” Mills said. “I can go to a couple of regular-season games and I can watch the UK regular-season games. But if UK gets to the Final Four I won’t watch. I’m a terrible fan.”
It’s more rare for Dunbar to be in the state tournament than it is for UK to reach the Final Four. The Bulldogs are in their fourth state tournament since the school opened in 1990; Kentucky has reached four of the last five Final Fours.
After having been involved in both kinds of runs— he reached state title games with Dunbar in 1993 and 1994 — Mills said getting to the Final Four is a tougher feat.
“I don’t think it’s realistic that all high schools have a chance to win the state tournament,” Mills said. “It’s somewhat realistic that a lot of the 300-some odd Division I teams have a chance.”
Neither one is easy, though.
I hate watching it live, important games like this. I can go to a couple of regular-season games and I can watch the UK regular-season games. But if UK gets to the Final Four I won’t watch. I’m a terrible fan.
“No matter how great your team is, no matter what your ranking is in Dave Cantrall’s ratings, no matter what you’re ranked in the AP poll or KenPom’s poll or any of that,” Mills said, “you have to go out and make things happen and the ball has to bounce your way. And it doesn’t always.”
Dunbar will play in its third state semifinal when it tips against Newport Central Catholic at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Mills, of course, will root them on from afar.
Big man on campus
Ben Weyer, Newport Central Catholic’s 6-foot-6 man in the post, has put together a nice line in the Sweet Sixteen.
He has 46 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks and seven assists through two games. He’s 15-for-23 from the floor including 7-for-11 from behind the three-point line. Many fans watching him in Rupp Arena this week think Bellarmine, with whom he signed in November, got a steal.
The facilities and the style of play Scott Davenport employs at the school sold Weyer, who was enthralled with the Knights’ program from his first unofficial visit. He thinks the way Bellarmine moves the ball around is similar to what NewCath has done this season.
Bellarmine, a perennial top-25 program, won the 2011 NCAA Division II national championship. Being able to compete for team titles was important to Weyer, who wants to be a coach after he finishes his college career. NewCath Coach Ron Dawn encouraged him not to get caught up in whether a school was “D-I or D-II” as his recruitment began to ramp up his junior year.
“If I didn’t pick so early who knows what I might have gotten or not gotten,” Weyer said. “Coach Davenport told me he always thought highly of me and I’m excited to be there. But I gotta take care of some business here first.”
NewCath reached the state semifinals as an all-boys school in 1953, decades before it merged with Our Lady of Providence. Jim Weyer, Ben’s grandfather, played on that team, which fell to eventual champion Lafayette.
Ben’s dad, Joe Weyer, was a point guard on Highlands teams that reached back-to-back Sweet Sixteens in 1986 an 1987. Joe couldn’t get out of the first round.
“He’d be like ‘I’ve been down there twice,’ ” Ben said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, but you played one game each time.’ ... Well now I’m going to play more than him.”
Legendary free-throw woes
The Whitaker Bank halftime-shooting contest has not been kind to Kentucky basketball legends tasked with making free-throw attempts as part of the Sweet Sixteen this week. Entering Friday’s final quarterfinal, the stars of yesteryear combined to go 1-for-8 at the charity stripe in the first round.
James “Boo” Brewer, a former star at Bardstown and the University of Louisville who now coaches Bardstown’s Tigers, hit his shot at halftime of the Newport Central Catholic-Trinity game. In a field including the likes of J.R. VanHoose, Derek Anderson and Joey Couch, Brewer was the only legend to make a halftime free throw during the first-round slate.
Has the fix arrived? Former University of Kentucky standout and 2002 Mr. Basketball Brandon Stockton connected on two free throws during halftime of the first two quarterfinal games on Friday.
▪ March 16, the day the 99th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen tipped off, marked the 25th anniversary of Fairdale’s state championship in 1991. It was the second of back-to-back titles for the Bulldogs, who remain the only boys’ team to have won consecutive championships since Male did so in 1970 and 1971. (Stan Hardin, who coached those Fairdale teams, is part of the official Sweet 16 radio team.)
▪ March 17 was the 15th anniversary of Lafayette’s Sweet Sixteen championship victory over Male. The Generals were the last public school from Lexington to win the boys’ title.