The Syracuse men’s basketball team became the first No. 10 seed to advance to the Final Four with its 68-62 come-from-behind victory over Virginia on Sunday, a comeback Coach Jim Boeheim said was the best in which he’d ever been involved at the school.
While Syracuse, a program steeped in tradition as well as recent scandal, doesn’t slide into a Cinderella slipper as cleanly as a George Mason or Wichita State, it does feature a local connection who can give sullen college basketball fans in Kentucky a rooting interest.
For Kip Wellman, a Lexington native who’s director of men’s basketball operations at Syracuse, “it’s just amazing” to be one of the last four teams standing. Especially coming off a season in which the school self-imposed a ban from postseason play.
Wellman graduated from Lexington Catholic in 2000, the year the Knights finished as runner-up to Elizabethtown in the boys’ Sweet Sixteen. He scored five points in the finals.
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From there, Wellman played three years at Embry-Riddle in Florida before finishing his education at Transylvania. While he was at Transy he helped with the Bourbon County boys’ team, which was then helmed by current-LexCath coach Brandon Salsman.
Wellman became a graduate assistant at Syracuse in 2005, spending four years there before a three-year stint at Western Kentucky, where he served as director of player development then as assistant coach. He assumed his current role with the Orange after one year away from basketball.
Boeheim’s wife, Juli, is from Kentucky and still has family in the state. Being born in Kentucky played as much a role as anything in Wellman landing his first gig with the Orange.
“I got very, very lucky,” he said. “Her family and my family kind of knew each other from Southland Christian Church a little bit. ... Juli asked Coach (Boeheim), and Coach didn’t have a problem with me coming here.”
In his current role, Wellman helps organize the whole program: from practices to travel to recruiting visits to official camps, he helps keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. “Everything kind of falls on your plate,” he said.
Along with vacating 101 wins and losing 12 scholarships (later reduced to eight) after an NCAA infractions ruling, Boeheim was issued a nine-game suspension this season.
The Orange went 4-5 under assistant coach Mike Hopkins, whom Wellman called a mentor and a great coach. Wellman’s biggest takeaway from that stint?
“No one else can coach someone else’s team,” Wellman said. “ ... Another guy just can’t coach your team the way that you would, regardless of how good of a coach he is.”
Wellman lauded Boeheim for the culture he instilled that helped the Orange get through last season and reach their second Final Four in four years. He hopes to land another coaching opportunity down the road, but for now says he’s fortunate to be in his current situation.
While some might find it difficult to choose a side in the “Cheaters’ Ball” between North Carolina and Syracuse this weekend, Wellman said he knows at least two people in Kentucky who don’t root for the Orange: his grandmother and sister, both University of Kentucky diehards. There was a caveat.
“I know one day of the year, everybody in Kentucky’s cheering for me, and that’s when we play Duke, so that’s good,” Wellman said with a laugh.
From the Sports Illustrated Vault: Read how Jim Boeheim met his wife Juli, a Kentucky native
There’s at least one more Final Four participant with a Kentucky connection. Oklahoma assistant coach Chris Crutchfield played on two state tournament teams at Hopkinsville in the mid-1980s, including a championship team in 1985.
Crutchfield, who was the primary recruiter of Oklahoma star Buddy Hield, has been a Division I assistant coach for 14 years. He previously told the Herald-Leader that the Sooners’ 109-106 triple-overtime loss at Kansas boosted the team’s confidence; unfortunately, Villanova thwarted Kansas in the Elite Eight to prevent a third meeting between the Big 12 foes.
Seven schools in the state, including a couple of locals, are participating in the inaugural season of the Kentucky State High School Clay Target League. They are: Bourbon County, Hart County, Hickman County, Marshall County, Scott County, Somerset and Todd County Central. Teams began practicing March 20; the first week of competition starts April 10.
The league, which is Title IX compliant and adaptive for students with physical disabilities, is not sanctioned by the KHSAA. It is an affiliate of the USA High School Clay Target League, under which leagues in 15 states compete. It touts itself as the safest sport in high school, as there have been no reported injuries since its inception in 2001.
For the spring season, when teams will compete virtually with one another, 145 athletes signed up. Individuals and teams will be scored at their nearest shooting range, and those results will be ranked on the league’s website.
For more information, go to Kyclaytarget.com.
▪ Jamie Egli has been named the football coach at Montgomery County. Egli, the head coach at Nelson County the past seven seasons, succeeds Dan Gooch, who retired this year. Egli coached Dylan Beasley, the Nelson County quarterback who set the single-game record for passing yards at 652 in a 59-38 win over Marion County on Aug. 31, 2012.
“I believe that Montgomery County can become a state power in football and that we can bring a state championship home to Mount Sterling,” Egli said in a new release.
▪ Lafayette named Taylor Roden its girls’ soccer coach. She previously was the junior varsity coach at Paul Laurence Dunbar and currently teaches at Rosa Parks Elementary. She played soccer at Dunbar and Georgetown College.
▪ Amos McCreary has been tabbed as the football coach at Bell County. McCreary, an Evarts graduate, played at Jacksonville State. He was an assistant and head coach in Georgia for the better part of the past 37 years. He told the Middlesboro Daily News that now was the right time for him to return to Eastern Kentucky. “If you leave these mountains, these mountains will never leave you,” McCreary told the paper. “ ... Now I feel like I’m back home.”
▪ Woodford County will be seeking its fifth boys’ basketball coach in 13 years after Scott Hundley announced he was resigning from the position. He plans to pursue a job in school administration or something outside of education. Hundley, president of the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, was 107-82 in six seasons at Woodford County. He won the 2000 Mr. Basketball award at Scott County and played at Vanderbilt.
▪ Brad Carr, who was the boys’ basketball coach at Scott since the 2004-05 season, resigned last week. He was 187-174 in 12 seasons with the Eagles, who won four straight district titles from 2008 to 2011 and played in 10th Region title games in 2013 and 2015. Scott’s 23-9 record in the 2008-09 season was the second-best in school history.
▪ Bart Williams was let go as the boys’ basketball coach at Pikeville after 10 seasons. Williams was 192-150 with the Panthers, which had three straight 20-win seasons from 2010 to 2013, the first time that occurred in more than 20 years.
LexCath has nice day at Nike combine
Several Lexington Catholic football players showed out during the Nike+ Football The Opening Rating Day in Atlanta on March 19.
Jack Fagot, a junior defensive back who made first-team All-City last season, was rated as the top prospect overall in the field of 2,524 with a Nike rating of 116.55. The rating factors in a 40-yard dash time, a 20-yard agility shuttle, a kneeling powerball toss and a vertical jump.
Jack’s brother Kirk ranked 49th overall (94.62) and was the top-rated quarterback among class of 2017 participants. Middle linebacker Sid Sharp was 60th overall (93.79) and the top linebacker over 200 pounds.
Tight end Gavin Cameron and linebacker Dylan Coulter, both sophomores, ranked inside the top 200.
▪ Johnny Drumgole, a junior linebacker at Russellville, also was among the top 200 prospects at the event. Inside the top 300 were junior running back Landon Board (Owensboro), sophomore running back Patric Edwards (Southwestern), junior defensive back Luke Eskins (Trinity) and junior wide receiver Domynik Johnson (Woodford County). Fifty-six Kentuckians participated in the combine. For full results, go to Bit.ly/1VUcuXE.
▪ Sayre hosts the 11th Region All “A” baseball tournament, which starts Monday at the school’s athletic complex at 300 Canebrake Drive. The Spartans will play Model at 5:30 p.m. Monday, and Lexington Christian and Frankfort will play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Sayre-Model winner will meet one-seed Berea at 5:30 p.m. Thursday before a championship game between that winner and the LCA-Frankfort winner at 6 p.m. Friday.
▪ The University of Kentucky will host a high school rugby showcase as part of its home match against the Cincinnati Kelts this weekend. UK will play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. High school teams from Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee are scheduled to participate in a total of eight matches to be played Saturday and Sunday. A full schedule is available via Facebook at Bit.ly/1omWVd7.