High School Basketball

100th boys’ Sweet Sixteen preview: Scott County vs. Pulaski County

Scott County and Pulaski County will do battle in the final game of the opening day at the Sweet Sixteen.
Scott County and Pulaski County will do battle in the final game of the opening day at the Sweet Sixteen.

Scott County

Region: 11th

Record: 30-5

Enrollment: 2,470

Coach’s résumé

Billy Hicks has won a state-record 940 games over his career, which began at Evarts. He coached at Harlan and Corbin before coming to Scott County beginning in the 1994-95 season. Hicks led the Cardinals to state titles in 1998 and 2007.

Probable starters

2) Bryce Long, 6-1, So., 11.8 ppg

10) Cooper Robb, 6-2, Jr., 14.9 ppg

24) Michael Moreno, 6-6, So., 22.3 ppg

33) Lorenzo Williams, 6-0, So., 5.4 ppg

44) Cooper Watts, 6-4, Sr., 5.1 ppg

How they got here

Scott County romped in the state, taking only one loss to a Kentucky team all season long. That was to Lexington Catholic, whom they defeated in the 11th Region finals after holding the Knights to 26.8 percent shooting. Robb, a three-sport star, battled through an eye infection during the finals and scored 17 points. “He’s tough,” Hicks said. “He’s gotten better and better as the year’s gone along.”

The Cardinals have won 18 straight coming into Rupp Arena, where for the fourth time in five years the 11th Region champ will open against the winner from the 12th Region.

Hicks looked forward to the week and a half of extra practice time he was going to get with this group. “That’s more time I get to spend with this team,” he said. “It’s been a great bunch of kids and I enjoy every day with them.”

Sideline savant

Hicks owns the record for the most Sweet Sixteen wins at 26, six more than second-place record holder Dale Mabrey of Pleasure Ridge Park.

“I never look at it through my eyes,” Hicks said. “ … Me personally, I never look at it as me. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Player to watch

Michael Moreno already is a bona fide star as a sophomore for the Cardinals. He holds one scholarship offer (from Bradley) and is receiving interest from Indiana, Louisville, Tennessee and Xavier, among others. Rivals.com recently awarded Moreno a three-star designation in its latest class of 2019 rankings.

Hicks told the Herald-Leader last month that Moreno is among the best players he’s coached.

“He’s been the foundation on which we build,” said Scott County Coach Billy Hicks. “ … In practice, he really works hard, he wants to be a really good player. And that’s contagious. He’s a great guy to build a team around.”

Sweet history

Scott County will play in its 15th boys’ state tournament and its 11th under Hicks. Everett “Mutt” Varney and Billy Ray Reynolds each led the Cardinals to two Sweet Sixteens.

Pulaski County

Region: 12th

Record: 27-7

Enrollment: 1,204

Coach’s résumé

This is John Fraley’s first season as a head coach after several years as a middle school and assistant coach. He was an assistant under Steve Wright at Southwestern the previous five seasons.

Probable starters

1) Steve Fitzgerald, 6-4, Jr., 25.2 ppg

2) Danny Butt, 6-3, Jr., 10.2 ppg

10) Colton Fraley, 5-10, 5.8 ppg

14) Landon Powell, 5-11, 17.9 ppg

15) Trevon Sylvester, 6-6, 15.5 ppg

How they got here

The Maroons stifled Mercer County, the defending region champs, 69-55 in the region finals after having surrendered 99 points to the Titans in a loss in January. “We knew we’d gotten better defensively since then, and that game was kind of a turning point for us,” Fraley said. The additions of Fitzgerald and Butt, transfers from Southwestern, upped the ante for the first-year head coach from the get-go. “The expectations and the hype was a little unrealistic probably …,” he said. “But we just embraced it.”

Fraley credited his team’s balance — four starters average double-figure scoring — for getting it this far. Hagan Elmore complements the first five as a defensive stopper off the bench. “He’s deceptively athletic,” Fraley said. “You look at him and don’t think he’s that athletic but he does a great job defending for us, can knock down the three and put it on the deck too.”

Family tradition

Fraley called Pulaski County basketball something of a family tradition. His dad, Dave Fraley, led the Maroons to the 1986 state championship, a game in which John’s brother, Shannon, hit a winning layup.

Family ties extend to the court still today: Colton Fraley, a freshman point guard, is John’s nephew. “He runs the show really well and understands when to go and when not to.”

John’s sons, Foster, 10, and Blake, 7, sat behind the bench during the regional finals, as he got to do as a child. Both play basketball “and seem to have a pretty good understanding of the game,” but Fraley isn’t sure if they will carry on the family trade.

“(Foster) may do it, I don’t know. He wants to be a pilot, too, so we’ll see which one of those wins out,” Fraley said with a laugh.

Player to watch

Fitzgerald, a junior, leads the Maroons in rebounding (8.9 per game) in addition to scoring. 247Sports rates him as a three-star shooting guard. He has one reported offer, from Middle Tennessee State, but the site’s Crystal Ball predictions currently have North Carolina State pegged as his likely destination.

Sweet history

This is trip No. 5 for the program and its first since 1992.

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

Chris Ware | staff

Scott County vs. Pulaski County

What: First round of boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament

Where: Rupp Arena

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

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